Game Corner [Mario Month]: Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (Nintendo 3DS)

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties.

Released: 27 January 2014
Originally Released: 10 May 1999
Developer: Nintendo
Original Developer: Nintendo R&D4
Also Available For: Game Boy Color

The Background:
After his debut in Donkey Kong (Nintendo R&D2/Ikegami Tsushinki, 1983) and graduating to his own arcade title alongside his brother, Luigi, Shigeru Miyamoto’s Mario took the world by storm with Super Mario Bros. The game was extremely popular, selling over 40 million copies and was pivotal to Nintendo saving the videogames industry from destitution. The game is also no stranger to being ported to other systems; it was a 16-bit makeover for Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo EAD, 1993) and re-released on the Nintendo Wii to commemorate its twenty-fifth anniversary but, before that, though, Super Mario Bros. was ported to the Game Boy Color in this version of the game. Although Super Mario Bros. Deluxe suffered from a smaller screen size due to its new portable format, the game featured a few new features, such as additional animated elements, challenge modes, compatibility with the Game Boy Printer, and bonus levels, all of which saw it ranked as one of the greatest Game Boy games of all time and it was highly praised for its additional features. The game later made it onto the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Library, and gamers were even able to receive a free copy by registering their Nintendo Network ID, which further bolstered the game with the 3DS save state features and finally gave me my best opportunity to play through this classic title after years of struggling with Mario’s classic 2D efforts.

The Plot:
The Mushroom Kingdom has been invaded by Bowser, King of the Koopas, and this wacky army, the Koopa Troopas. After transforming the citizens into inanimate objects and kidnapping Princess Toadstool, Mario and Luigi set out to liberate the Mushroom Kingdom and rescue the princess from his clutches!

As an updated port of perhaps gaming’s most famous 2D, sidescrolling platformer,Super Mario Bros. Deluxe looks, sounds, and plays exactly the same as Super Mario Bros. except you have reduced visibility due to the screen size and the scrolling is a little janky at times. This basically means that the left side of the screen catches up to you pretty fast, which can be an issue as you can’t freely backtrack in the level (or “World”) so it can cause you to plummet to your death if you’re not careful, and it’s not always immediately clear what dangers or goodies are above or below you, meaning you need to use the directional pad to shunt the screen up and down for a better look but, otherwise, the controls and presentation are exactly what you’d expect from Nintendo’s breakout title. You’re played into the overalls or Mario (or Luigi, if you press the Select button prior to entering a World), who can run by holding B or Y and jump by pressing A. Mario will cain extra height and distance if you hold down the jump button and jump from a run, and jumping on enemies is his primary way of dispatching them. While Mario’s physics are pretty tight and responsive, he can be slippery and awkward at times, especially when bouncing off springs, but Luigi is even worse since he has far less traction and a less manageable, higher jump.

Run and hop around the game’s Worlds squashing baddies, clearing gaps, and swimming through treacherous waters.

As ever, your goal is to move from the left side of the screen to the right and reach a goal flag within a time limit; this timer is pretty generous and it’s only on later Worlds where the game throws repeating paths at you that it can get a bit tricky reaching the end in time. Mario hops about, bouncing off enemies and hitting blocks to progress, but also has to clear longer gaps with the aid of a spring or moving, weighted, or temporary platforms or smaller ones by running over them. Throughout the Mushroom Kingdom, you’ll find a number of pipes; some of these can be entered to reach secret areas, usually full of Coins, and provide you with a shortcut, but you can also go out of bounds sometimes and find a Warp Zone to skip ahead to a later World. For the most part, you’ll be exploring the block-and-gap-landed Mushroom Kingdom, with only a few different obstacles (either “stairs” or blocks, more gaps, or long stretches of land with enemies to bump off) distinguishing them, but you’ll also venture into underground areas somewhat reminiscent of caves (which tend to be a bit more claustrophobic had have more elevator platforms) and also underwater a couple of times. Here, you’re completely defenceless without a Fire Flower or Super Star and must rapidly tap A to swim ahead; you don’t need to worry about air, which is helpful, but there does seem to be sections where you’re pulled down towards the bottom of the screen (and your death). Although there’s a score counter in the game, it’s more for bragging rights than anything else and doesn’t seem to award you extra lives, though these are awarded for consecutively defeating enemies. Furthermore, while there are no mid-World checkpoints, you can save and end your game at any time from the pause menu and you’re given three save files to play with, and the game keeps track of your lives and completion progress on the new (albeit limited) overworld screen.

Graphics and Sound:  
Super Mario Bros. Deluxe appears to be an exact recreation of the original title, so it’s Super Mario Bros. as you know and love it and in all its 8-bit glory, though there are a few graphical additions to the water and lava to make them more lively. This means, of course, that animation frames are low, and the presentation is quite basic, but the game is still a colourful and pretty ambitious title, with Mario and Luigi’s sprites being the obvious standout. Sure, they have no idle animations, but they can grow and shrink and change colour from power-ups, do a little slide/turnaround pose when you quickly change direction, perform a breaststroke underwater, and have a little death animation when you stupidly run into an oncoming Koopa shell. Enemies receive even less animation but remain memorable simply because they’re so quirky and weird; mean little mushrooms, hammer tossing turtles, and pouting fish fill the screen, with all of them popping out from the backgrounds thanks to their unique colour palettes, and there’s never a question of not being able to see where you’re going or what you’re doing (as long as it’s not too high up or below you).

Some minor improvements and new additions bolster the classic 8-bit graphics.

The game also seems to pop a little more and run a little smoother, potentially because of the better hardware, and all the classic Super Mario Bros. tunes are here to settle in your ear for the rest of the day. There’s no many, granted, with only a handful of different tunes playing in the game’s different areas, but they’re all chirpy and catchy and help keep everything very whimsical. Sadly, there’s really not much variety in the Worlds; the Mushroom Kingdom stages sometimes have more pipes or blocks or platforms, or slightly different hills or even mushroom platforms at some point, but the closest they get to actually looking any different are the rare occasions when they receive a minor palette swap to simulate night or have brick castle walls in the background. The underwater levels are very visually appealing with their bubbles and seaweed, but are few and far between, same as the underground sections, but the game does impress with its end of World melody and jingle (a little flagpole raises and fireworks go off when you clear Worlds) and in the lava-filled stone castles you must conquer to clear each World. There’s no in-game story offered at all, but a Toad will tell you that the princess is in another castle at the end of every World and there’s fun little animations of the castle crumbling on the new overworld screens, so that’s a nice touch.

Enemies and Bosses:
Naturally, all the enemies you’ve come to know and love from Super Mario titles appear and made their debut in this title. The first enemy you’ll come across are the Goomas (pretty unthreatening sentient mushrooms that wander about and can be flattened with your jump) and the Koopa Troopas. These come in two colours (red and green) and a flying variant that can either catch you off-guard in mid-air or act as a temporary jump boost. When you defeat a Koopa Troopa, you can hit their shell to send it flying into other enemies for a score and life bonus but be careful as it’s just as likely to ricochet back at you. You can do the same to the Buzzy Beetles, but these guys are smaller, harder to hit, and are immune to your fireballs. Also of great annoyance are the piranha plants to pop out from pipes, usually when you least expect it, the squid-like Bloopers (who erratically swim about underwater), and Cheap Cheaps (who often dive up out of the water as you run over bridges).

You’ll be dodging past many enemies and fake Bowsers in you quest to take out the real Koopa King.

By far the worst regular enemies you’ll encounter, though, are Lakitu and the Hammer Bros. Lakitu hovers overhead (just out of reach) and drops Spinys across the stage , though you can take both of these out if you have a Fire Flower. The Hammer Bros usually attack in twos and from higher ground, tossing hammers in a tight arc that can be tough to jump over and even tougher to land with your jump as the window where they’re vulnerable is incredibly small. As for bosses, there’s technically only one in the entire game but you must battle him eight times and each time you have to endure a lava-filled obstacle course and/or pick the correct path to reach him, and this is, of course, Bowser. While seven of the eight Bowsers are actually his minions in disguise, each one attacks just like the real thing; perched over a bridge, Bowser moves back and forth, hops up and down, and spits fireballs at you. Some castles include a moving platform overhead for you to use to get behind him, and the fights become tougher as the amount of projectiles he spits increases, he adds a load of hammers to his arsenal, and Lava Bubbles will pop up from the magma below. However, the strategy to defeating Bowser remains the same every time: either blast at him repeatedly with a Fire Flower until he’s done in, or hop over him (or pass through him after taking a hit) and jump on the axe to remove the bridge beneath him and send him to the lava below.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Coins are scattered all throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. Collecting these adds to your score tally and will net you an extra life once you get one-hundred of them, after which the counter resets to zero. Your Coin counter carries over between Worlds and you’ll often find bunches of them hidden away beneath pipes or along higher paths. You can also grab a 1-Up Mushroom for an extra life as well, or a Super Mushroom to grow bigger and become Super Mario/Luigi. This lets you take a hit without dying and allows you to smash certain blocks by hitting them from beneath, which can uncover secret routes. A Fire Flower lets you throw bouncing fireballs with the B button, which is great for taking out most enemies (and Bowser) from a safe distance, but you’ll revert to you basic, smaller form if you take a hit in either of these states. Finally, there’s the Super Star, which grants you a brief period of invincibility from all onscreen hazards except bottomless pits and lava pools; consecutively defeating enemies in this state will net you extra points and, eventually, an extra life.

Additional Features:
One of the primary reasons I was actually able to finish the game this time around was due to the additional features offered by the Nintendo 3DS, most notably the save state feature, which lets you create a save point wherever you want so you can recover from mistakes much faster and easier, though the base game includes a number of additional features, too. Although you initially can’t backtrack to previous Worlds, you’ll be able to select which World to revisit on your save file after clearing the game. This also unlocks a new, far more challenging adventure, which you can play by selecting the star option when loading your save file. This replaces all Goombas with Buzzy Beetles, speeds up the enemy’s walking speed, reduces the size of elevator lifts, adds more fire bars, and removes the power-ups from the game. New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe also includes a ‘Challenge’ mode that sees you exploring the game’s Worlds once again, this time in search of Red Coins and Yoshi Eggs to unlock content in the game’s Toy Box.

The game’s additional modes and unlockables add a great deal of challenge and replay value.

Once you accumulate 100,000 points in the main game, you unlock ‘You VS. Boo’, a race against a Boo across rejigged Worlds hitting new blocks to clear the way so you can get ahead of the ghost, which can naturally pass through walls. Once you beat the Boo, it’ll get replaced by faster and faster different coloured variants to test your high score. When you earn 300,000 points in the main game, you’ll unlock Super Mario Bros. for Super Players (indicated by the Luigi face now on the main title screen), which is a remake of Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (Nintendo EAD, 1986). This game gives you only one save slot and provides thirteen new, much tougher Worlds, a new item in the injury- (or death-) dealing Poison Mushroom, alongside palette swaps of enemies and a wind that makes jumping even trickier. You can also partake in a ‘VS Game’, which is a two-player challenge mode that’s exactly the same as ‘You VS Boo’ but pits you against another human player, a Toy Box that offers a variety of toys for you to unlock and use, and a Fortune Teller mini game that awards you extra lives on a new save file. Every time you defeat each of the eight castles, a Toad will be added to the Mystery Room which will show you animations or artwork to print out on the Game Boy Printer, you’ll receive medals for clearing the different game modes, and there’s even a calendar included if you want to keep track of the days of the week.

The Summary:
I’ve carried the shame of never having beaten Super Mario Bros. for most of my life; to be fair, I didn’t own any of Nintendo’s home consoles until the Nintendo 64 so I didn’t really play any Super Mario titles that weren’t on the Game Boy or played through emulators, and my attempt to play it on the Nintendo Wii was largely just me messing about rather than actually sitting down and trying to finish it. Knowing that the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console wasn’t long for this world, I jumped at the chance to get Super Mario Bros. Deluxe while I could can give it a go and finally achieved that long-elusive goal of finishing this classic platformer, and I was mostly happy with the results. The game is fun, bright, and full of a steady challenge; while it can be too simple at some times and a little frustrating at others with its obstacle placement, it’s fun hopping about and using the skills you’ve mastered over the course of the game to dash past and jump around the later Worlds. While there’s not a lot of variety to the Worlds and the graphics are very basic, I can excuse that since it was an 8-bit title from the mid-eighties and it still holds up as an entertaining little adventure to keep you busy for a long afternoon. While it’s a shame that a version of Mario Bros. (Nintendo R&D1, 1983) included as well, I won’t hold that against it as the additional features added to this game, including mini games, The Lost Levels, and extra challenges, really make Super Mario Bros. Deluxe the definitive 8-bit version of Nintendo’s classic platformer.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy Super Mario Bros. Deluxe? What did you think to the additions made to the game and how do you feel it compares to the original videogame? Did you play Super Mario Bros. as a child and, if so, what are some of your memories of the game? Did you ever find all the Warp Zones and complete the new challenges introduced in this version of the game? Which of the classic Super Mario titles is your favourite? Are there any retro videogames you didn’t complete until later in like? Whatever your thoughts on Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, feel free to leave a comment below by signing up or drop your thoughts on my social media, and be sure to check back for more Mario content this March!

Game Corner [PokéMonth]: Pokémon: Crystal Version (Nintendo 3DS)

Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, and watching the feature-length movies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day”, which I’m expanding to an entire month of Pokémon every Tuesday in February.

Released: 26 January 2018
Originally Released: 14 December 2000
Developer: Nintendo
Original Developer: Game Freak
Also Available For: GameBoy Color

The Background:
I’ve talked before not just about Pokémon but also about how Pokémon: Gold Version and Pokémon: Silver Version (Game Freak, 1999) are my favourite games in the franchise. Thanks to the success of not just the first Generation of Pokémon videogames but also an aggressive multimedia strategy, Pokémon became an instant cultural phenomenon across the world, and yet the developers originally intended for Pokémon: Gold and Silver to be the final entries in the series. The sequels immediately sought to improve upon the gameplay, graphics, and mechanics of the first games; developed exclusively for the GameBoy Color, the game would feature a greater colour palette, backwards compatibility with the previous games, a real-time internal clock, and one-hundred new Pokémon to collect and battle (in addition to two new Types, Dark and Steel). Although many of these Pokémon were dropped, or significantly redesigned, during the game’s development, Nintendo offered the otherwise-inaccessible Celebi as a promotional extra and Pokémon: Gold and Silver were highly anticipated by me, personally, thanks to the new Pokémon cropping up in the anime and movies.

Anticipation was high for all-new Pokémon videogames thanks to the anime and the franchise’s popularity.

This Generation stands out for me for including things like a day/night cycle, breeding, and including the entire region of Kanto as post-game content and, like Pokémon: Blue and Red, Pokémon: Gold and Silver were not only highly praised at the time but also soon followed by a third entry, Pokémon: Crystal. While essentially the same game, Pokémon: Crystal was a trend-setter for the franchise, allowing players to choose the gender of their avatar, including partially animated battle sprites, featuring a whole additional side-story revolving around Suicune and the Unown, and debuting the ever-popular Battle Tower for players to further test their mettle. Again, thanks to Pokémon’s popularity and including additional elements as an incentive for a further purchase, Pokémon: Crystal was well received upon release and has been noted as one of the best Pokémon games. Many elements from Pokémon: Crystal became series staples in subsequent releases, and featured prominently in the Gold and Silver remakes, and the game was later released on the 3DS Virtual Console with the Celebi event included as standard.

The Plot:
The time has come to receive your first Pokémon from Professor Elm and challenge the Gym Leaders and Pokémon of the Johto region. However, your journey is disrupted by your mysterious rival, who stole one of Professor Elm’s Pokémon, and the villainous Team Rocket, who seek to return the group to their former glory. Things are further complicated when you cross paths with Eusine, who has made it his life gal to earn the respect of the legendary beast Suicune.

As I said, I regard the second generation of Pokémon games as my favourite in the franchise; I remember going out of my way to get Pokémon: Blue when it first came out, and then snapping up Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition (ibid, 1998) simply because of how popular the franchise was, and me and my friends were so eager for new Pokémon games that we readily downloaded barely-translated ROMs of Gold and Silver just to experience them. I had Pokémon: Silver back in the day, but always wanted Pokémon: Gold and never had the chance to play Pokémon: Crystal as I was firmly into collecting for the Game Boy Advance by then, so I jumped at the chance to get it before the 3DS Virtual Console shut down for good simply because of how much I enjoyed Pokémon: Silver and Pokémon: HeartGold (ibid, 2009). Essentially, Pokémon: Crystal is the same Pokémon you know and love: the game is a top-down role-playing game (RPG) in which players get to first pick their gender, name their avatar, select from three starter Pokémon, and embark on a journey to raise a well-balanced team, challenge the Johto Gym Leaders, and take on the Pokémon League. As was the style at the time, Pokémon: Crystal isn’t prone to holding your hand; you can talk to non-playable characters (NPCs) for clues, tips, lore, and some instructions but you’re mostly left to your own devices, though the game often bars your progress behind impassable objects like trees, bodies of water, or battling trainers that can only be bypassed by defeating Gym Leaders or acquiring Hidden Machines (HMs). As before, Pokémon: Crystal utilises an extremely simple control scheme that lets you organise your party, equip and use items, and save your progress or alter settings quickly and easily, and the user interface is vastly improved over the last games, with your pack now divided into pockets for key items PokéBalls, and healing items and even lets you set an item to the ‘Select’ button for quick use.

Pick your Pokémon and head out into Johto to tackle a whole new crop of Trainers and challenges.

As ever, gameplay is divided into exploring the overworld and one-on-one battles against wild or trainer-owned Pokémon. On the overworld, you’ll chat to NPCs with A, activate switches and pressure pads, and pick up items; if you walk into grass, caves, or surf on water, you’ll soon encounter a wild Pokémon, which switches the game to a battle screen where you and your opponent take turns to inflict damage or status effects on each other, or use in-battle items to heal or relieve status effects or try and capture the Pokémon. You can also run from wild Pokémon (as long as you’re a higher level), but not from a Trainer battle, and many wild Pokémon can also now flee from battle, which can make capturing them trickier. Pokémon battles are dictated by a “Type” system that’s basically a version of Rock/Paper/Scissors; Water-Type Pokémon inflict greater damage against Fire-Type Pokémon, for example, while Grass-Types trump Water and are weak to Fire. There are now seventeen different Types of Pokémon in the game, with Dark- and Steel-Types adding an extra dimension to battle as the previously all-powerful Psychic-Type Pokémon now have a formidable weakness in Dark-Type Pokémon and moves. While some moves, like Bite, have changed Type to align with this new system, it’s all pretty simple to figure out thanks to battle text informing you when moves are “Super effective” or “Not very effective” and external factors like your location, wild Pokémon names, and their colouring and appearance cluing you in on the best attack strategy. If you’re fishing in the sea, for example, and hook a Qwilfish (which is blue, clearly identified as a fish), it’s pretty obvious that you need to use a Grass- and Electric-Type to inflict maximum damage. At the beginning, you can pick between three different Pokémon, a Fire-, Grass-, or Water-Type, and I recommend keeping them in your party and five to ten levels higher than the rest of your team simply because they are your first Pokémon. You can choose to give this Pokémon, and any others you catch (but not ones you acquire via trading) a nickname to personalise them, and you’ll you can swap around your Pokémon’s moves at any time either in-battle or from the pause menu, or swap or release them from the PCs found in Pokémon Centers.

Level-up to become stronger, and make use of the game’s new evolution methods to discover new Pokémon.

To ease you into the game, early wild Pokémon and Pokémon Trainers are all at low-levels and you’re usually always at an advantage because your Pokémon have higher stats. Winning Pokémon battles will award your Pokémon with experience points (EXP); earn enough, and your Pokémon will level-up, which will increase their Hit Points (HP), Attack, Defence, Speed, and Special stats (now split into Special Attack and Special Defense) and thus make them more powerful. One of the best quality of life improvements in Pokémon: Crystal is the addition of an in-battle EXP progress bar so you can easily keep track of your Pokémon’s progress, and you can swap out Pokémon in battles to share EXP and level them up faster, which you’ll want to do as it’s helpful (though not necessarily necessary by any means) to have a diverse team with decent Type coverage. Don’t level-up too fast, though, as your Pokémon will disobey you if they’re too high a level and you don’t have the appropriate Gym Badge. I like to circumvent this by grinding between Gym battles; by keeping my main Pokémon five to ten levels stronger, but a few levels below the level cap, it can ensure that I’m always stronger enough for the next battle, though I did notice that I was spending more time grinding between Gyms than in my Pokémon: Yellow playthrough. Pokémon will learn new moves from levelling-up, or from Technical Machines (TMs), and it’s recommended to give your Pokémon moves that play to their strengths (if they have a high Attack stat, for example, you don’t really want to have moves that are all Special Attacks) and go against their Type (teaching Poison-Type moves to Grass-Type Pokémon, for example) so they have greater Type coverage in battle. In addition to the untrackable Effort Value (EV) points (earned by consecutively battling certain Pokémon, so defeating a bunch of Hoothoot in a row will boost your HP stat by one point), Pokémon: Crystal also introduces a hidden “Happiness” stat. the more you travel with, use, and care for your Pokémon, the happier it will become; you can boost this stat by grooming them and feeding them Vitamins (which also boost individual stats) or equipping them with certain items in order to max out their Happiness and trigger their evolution.

You can shrug off status effects with Berries, and new HMs offer more exploration options.

As before, battles and gameplay are as hard as you make them; if you don’t bother levelling-up a diverse team, then battles will eventually become harder to win. You can avoid a Trainer battle by staying out of the sight line of Trainers, but I recommend battling every Trainer you come up against to strengthen your team and earn PokéDollars, and some Trainers will even give you their phone number and call you with tips or for a rematch. Trainers are much more capable this time around; not only do they have all the same options as you when it comes to swapping and healing their Pokémon, but they also don’t have to worry about running out of Power Points (PP). Pokémon can still only know four moves at a time, so you’ll have to either replace an existing move to learn a new one or visit the Move Deleter to do this outside of levelling-up or to forget HM moves, and each move has a certain number of PP. When you’re all out, you can’t use that move anymore and will eventually either have to use “struggle” (which inflicts recoil damage to you), replenish PP with a Berry or Elixir, or restore your Pokémon at a Pokémon Center. If you’re not careful in battle, your Pokémon will end up “fainting” when their HP is drained and, if all your Pokémon faint, you’ll “white out”, lose some money, and respawn at the last Pokémon Center you visited. As before, you also need to be wary of status effects, which can cause Pokémon to flinch (basically miss a turn), become confused (often resulting in them hurting themselves), miss their attacks, fall sleep or become paralysed or poisoned (which also drains HP when on the overworld), burned, or frozen. While some attacks and items will also boost your stats and your chance at inflicting greater damage with a “Critical Hit”, Pokémon: Crystal features far more moves that power up and negate certain Types, like Sunny Day and Rain Dance buffing Fire- and Water-Types, respectively. You can undo these status effects using certain items, and can have your Pokémon hold Berries that they’ll automatically eat when inflicted with a status effect or at low HP or PP to help them shake off these debilitating effects.

New mechanics and quality of life improvements make the game much more fun to play.

Victory in Trainer battles earns you PokéDollars to spend in PokéMarts and at vending machines on healing items, hold items, Vitamins, single-use power-ups, and other useful gear to help you in battle or with raising your Pokémon. Items and Pokémon can be stored in PCs when required (you can still only have six Pokémon at a time, so any additional Pokémon are automatically transferred to your PC) but you can choose to have your mother save some money for you, which will award you with extra items and toys to furnish your bedroom with. Although you still only get one save file, you can manually save your progress at any time on the overworld and I recommend saving frequently, and especially before Gym Leader battles or encounters with Legendary Pokémon so you can reset if you make a mistake. Just like before, you need to defeat eight Gym Leaders to earn their badges and challenge the Pokémon League while also working on completing Professor Oak’s PokéDex by capturing Pokémon. The PokéDex has also received an upgrade, making searching for and viewing Pokémon much easier, but you’ll still only be able to fully complete it by trading with Gold, Silver, and even the Generation One games using the “Time Machine” function and by evolving Pokémon through battle, raising their Happiness, using special stones, or by trading (often now with them holding a special item). You can manually cancel some evolutions, and even have Pokémon hold an Everstone to suppress their evolution, which is sometimes recommended as Pokémon learn moves faster in their weaker forms and some moves can only be learned prior to evolution. Another new feature in this game is breeding; each Pokémon is either male, female, or gender neutral and you can leave two Pokémon at the Day Care to be raised outside of battle or, if they’re compatible, breed either a pre-evolution like Pichu and Igglybuff or a slightly stronger version of an existing Pokémon with moves they wouldn’t normally learn. When Pokémon breed, you’re given an egg; these eggs will hatch after you’ve taken a certain number of steps or cycled a certain distance, and breeding can be a great way or filling up the PokéDex quickly alongside regular battling, though you won’t be able to breed Legendary Pokémon and some take longer to produce an egg than others.

Of all the side quests, the one involving Suicune is the most prominent.

A Pokémon’s gender is clearly visible next to their name in battle, and a further quality of life feature is that you’ll see a little PokéBall next to a wild Pokémon’s name to indicate that you’ve caught it, and the game is littered with similar helpful additions mainly tied to your PokéGear. This device houses your map, phone, and a radio which lets you listen to shows offering tips or music that will either wake up Pokémon or put them to sleep and allow you to track the mysterious goings-on at the Runs of Alph. Here, you’ll investigate strange symbols and encounter the useless Unown, though there are slide puzzles to play here and twenty-four different variations of this Pokémon to find and record for a nearby scientist. Your progress is again restricted by trees, water, and dark caves, but now you also have to content with waterfalls and whirlpools. You can again get past these obstacles with HMs, which again double as faster ways of traversing the map: Fly, for example, lets you fly to any Pokémon Center on the map, but you can also use Dig to quickly exit caves (especially useful when you’re out of Escape Ropes), Teleport to warp to exits, and acquire a bicycle (but, sadly, not a skateboard) to dramatically increase up your movement speed. Many of the same minor puzzles return from the last game, meaning you’ll be pressing switches or pushing boulders or using teleport pads to get around, though you’ll also encounter slippery ice, a strange plant that can only be moved using a special water bottle, and numerous instances where the local Gym Leader is either busy with another task or won’t battle you until you’ve complete a side quest. These primarily involve the returning Team Rocket, who have been cutting the tails off Slowpoke, take over the radio tower, and steal vital components from the Kanto power plant. When team Rocket is in town, you’ll need to clear them all out to make the Gym and other areas accessible, but you’re also hounded by your rival, a red-haired boy who stole a Pokémon from Professor Elm and is obsessed with power. Other side quests include searching for a Farfetch’d in Ilex Forest, competing in a bug-catching contest, fetching medicine for a sick Ampharos, feeding Berries to a poorly Miltank, exploring Dragon’s Den, and capturing a strange Gyarados at the Lake of Rage. This will most likely by your introduction to “Shiny” Pokémon, extremely rare palette swaps of Pokémon that occasionally appear in battle. Perhaps the most prominent side quest here involves the Legendary Beasts, specifically Suicune; the three beasts are released into the wild early into the game but, while you’ll randomly encounter Entei and Raikou while wandering around and be left tearing your hair out as they constantly flee from battle, you’ll come across Eusine in his search for Suicune as you journey around Johto and eventually be able to tackle the elusive beats one-on-one to add it to your collection.

Graphics and Sound:
Obviously, Pokémon: Crystal is still going to be noticeably limited compared to later games in the series, but the improvements between this game and not just the first generation but even Gold and Silver are pretty impressive. I never thought of the Game Boy Color as being an especially powerful device compared to the original Game Boy, but this game is huge compared to the first games, with a vibrant colour palette that is far more detailed than what we saw in the first games. Towns and routes are much more visually interesting, with grass and trees and plants swaying and bobbing as you explore, the town and route names popping up onscreen, and a distinctly Japanese aesthetic to the far more impressive interiors of buildings. All of the sprites have been given a complete makeover, meaning overworld sprites and battle sprites are far more diverse and detailed; there are new Trainer classes available in the game, new animations for the PokéBalls, and not only a bunch of new moves added to the game but much more interesting and visually exciting attack animations, with more frames and colours being utilised to really make the most of the Game Boy Color’s capabilities. Although you can’t have a Pokémon follow you around like in Pokémon: Yellow, Pokémon now have little animation frames when they appear onscreen, sparkle when they’re Shiny, and even their menu and HM sprites have been overhauled to make them more distinctive.

It’s amazing how much better Pokémon looks, sounds, and plays on the Game Boy Color hardware.

While Johto’s towns and areas aren’t really all that different from Kanto’s, and are probably a little less visually diverse than I’d like, there’s still some fun locations to explore here. Goldenrod City has a Game Corner and a large PokéMart like Celedon City, but also an underground passage, a radio tower, an ice cave, and the Magnet Train which can allow swift access to and from Johto to Kanto; structures like Bellsprout Tower, Burnt Tower, and Tin Tower are not only great places to train ut also key to catching the game’s Legendary Pokémon; and you can even explore a lighthouse (which is full of holes to fall down) and the entirety of Kanto! Perhaps the biggest new feature in this generation was the inclusion of a day/night cycle; at the start of the game, you set the date and time and, as day turns to night, the palette changes accordingly and this even affects the evolution and appearance of some Pokémon. Different NPCs and events will also happen on certain days, and noting the date and time is essential for completing the PokéDex and acquiring certain items. Although the game is bolstered by some jaunty, memorable little chip tunes and Pokémon cries are much improved, the sound is still a bit of a weak spot here; you can tune into different radio channels to change the music though, which is fun. While your pack is far easier to navigate, its capacity is still limited, but storing and retrieving items is much easier this time around, as is rearranging the order of items in your pack, and you can interact with far more on the overworld: Berry plants, Pokémon blocking your path, and even certain trees can all be interacted with to pick-up items or trigger a battle, and you can again use the Itemfinder to seek out hidden items. Like in Pokémon: Yellow, Pokémon: Crystal features an all-new intro sequence, this one focusing on Suicune and the Unown, and you can even choose to play as a girl if you like (though this has no impact on the gameplay other than changing your sprite).

Enemies and Bosses:
In your quest to conquer the Pokémon League, you’ll battle a wide variety of Pokémon both in the field and in use by various Pokémon Trainers. Wild and Trainer Pokémon begin at low levels, generally between three and six, but get progressively stronger as you advance to new areas and when you’re called for a rematch, which will help you to grow stronger on a rising curve. Your ability to weaken these Pokémon for capture or defeat them is directly tied to your Pokémon’s current level and moves; if your Pokémon is weak and only knows moves like Bubble and Leer or bring an Electric-Type into a forest or a Bug-Type into a cave you’ll struggle to advance. The same applies to Pokémon Trainers; they start off using one or two weak Pokémon like Sentret and Spinarak but eventually use more formidable and evolved Pokémon. They’ll also withdraw them, heal them, or buff them with items and, while you can exploit the enemy A.I. at times, Pokémon Trainers tend to use moves that have a Type advantage over your current Pokémon. Pokémon: Crystal introduces new moves that can prolong or frustrate battles as well; Protect will render your next attack useless, Spikes will damage any Pokémon you send into battle, and some moves, like Dynamic Punch, not only hit hard but also inflict confusion on their victim. Still, with enough grinding and a diverse team, you can easily overcome every opponent you face; simply take some time between Gym battles to level-up, develop specific stats if that’s your jam, and bringing your team as close to the level cap as possible, utilising moves that are super effective and sharing EXP wherever possible, and you can easily trample over the opposition once you’ve gotten past the uphill battle at the start of the game.

Team Rocket are back and you’re hounded by an arrogant rival with a superiority complex.

After being absent for a few years, Team Rocket has come back but they’re far less of a threat than in the first generation; these nefarious individuals are easily identified by their black attire and caps and will impede your progress until you’ve cleared them out of towns, towers, and buildings. When exploring their hidden base in Mahogany Town, you’ll be constantly beset by the gang when you walk in front of security cameras, though Pokémon League Champion Lance is on hand to help you out by healing your team. When you encounter them in the radio tower, you’ll have to battle a Rocket Executive posing as the tower’s director, and they’ve been cutting off Slowpoke tails to sell them earlier in the game, but Team Rocket’s grunts really aren’t much of a threat and tend to stick to common Pokémon like Rattata, Muk, and Zubat. In comparison, your rival is much more malicious than Blue from the last game; this guy (often dubbed “Silver”) is not just rude, arrogant, and obsessed with training only the most powerful Pokémon, but also a conceited bully, pushing you away and past you and refusing to help fend off Team Rocket since it doesn’t suit his goals. Unfortunately, the rivalry between you isn’t as big of a factor as in the last game; the rival pops up at various points throughout the game, but it’s easy to forget he even exists and he doesn’t even end up being the Pokémon League Champion, which is a shame as it would’ve been easy to have him be the mastermind behind Team Rocket’s return and maybe tie him into the Ruins of Alph and Suicune sub-plots. Your rival will steal whatever starter Pokémon has a Type advantage against yours (in my case, he took Chikorita) but eventually expands his team to include Sneasel, Golbat, Magneton, Alakazam, and Gengar to give him good Type coverage across the board. However, a diverse and high-levelled team can easily send him packing in every encounter; in my playthrough, I barely even needed to swap my Pokémon out between each round thanks to teaching my Feraligatr Bite, Ice Punch, Surf, and Dynamic Punch and going into every encounter at least ten levels higher than him, making him a visually interesting but hardly challenging successor to Blue.

You’ll occasionally need to complete some side quests or solve a puzzle to battle the Gym Leaders.

A whole new world to live in means eight all-new towns and eight new Gym Leaders to battle, each specialising in a specific Pokémon Type and often (but, oddly, not always) protected by a number of protégés and some light puzzles, such as a maze, obscured path, or the pushing of boulders. Other times, Gyms will be empty, locked, or otherwise barred and you’ll need to complete a side quest to gain entry. While you don’t have  to fight the Gym Leader’s minions, I recommend it so you don’t miss out on some EXP and cash, and it’s again recommended to have a diverse team on hand (though you can often helpfully find wild Pokémon nearby that can counteract the Gym’s specialty). Your first challenge is Falkner, who uses Flying-Type Pokémon; as long as you don’t have a Grass-Type on hand and, honestly, why would you?) this isn’t anything to worry about and you can improve your chances by taking a slight detour and catching a Ground-Type Phanpy. Bugsy is a walk in the park if you have a Fire-Type, though I felt the pinch against his Scyther’s Fury Cutter since I opted for Totodile instead of my usual Cyndaquil. Most players run into a brick wall when faced with Whitney and her Miltank, which can deal increasingly more devastating damage with its Rollout attack, but I honestly had no trouble besting it was a Level 28 Croconaw using Bite and Ice Punch (though a Fighting-Type Pokémon or moves are your best bet against her). Neither Morty or Chuck are much of a challenge either since you can take both out with Psychic-, Dark-, and Electric-Type moves, while Fire- and Water-Types are your best bet at taking out Jamsine’s Steelix. Electric- and Fire-Types will also allow you to make short work of Pryce’s Ice-Type Pokémon (indeed, the hardest thing about him is skidding about on the icy floor of his Gym) and, while Clair’s Dragon-Types can be intimidating and easily paralyse you, they’ll also fall pretty quickly if you have Ice-Type Pokémon or moves on hand. Defeating each Gym Leader awards you a badge that increases the game’s level cap, powers up certain stats, and allows you to use HMs outside of battle to reach new areas, and also awards you some useful TMs, like Dynamic Punch and Shadow Ball, but take care after defeating Whitney as you won’t immediately earn her badge and must talk to one of her underlings to convince her to hand it over.

The best of the best await at the Pokémon League…unless you’re levels ahead of them…

Once all of the Gym Leaders are defeated, you’re ready to take on the Pokémon League. To reach the League, you need to use your HMs to navigate through Tohjo Falls and the cavernous Victory Road, where you’ll battle your rival once more and encounter some high-level Pokémon to help push your levels higher. You’ll want to make use of the makeshift Pokémon Center and PokéMart right before the Elite Four to heal up and maybe stock up on restorative items since you again need to battle all four Trainers, and the champion, consecutively to become the champ. Each of the Elite Four has a full team of Pokémon, with a general speciality in mind but also Type coverage to keep you on your toes; your first challenge is Will, who uses Psychic-Type Pokémon but, thankfully, these are dual-Types so you can use Dark-, Ghost-, Electric-, and Fire-Type moves to easily cut through his Pokémon, though you could be caught off-guard by confusion or freezing if you’re not careful. Next up is Koga, upgraded from a Gym Leader to one of the Elite Four and still rocking the Poison-Types, making him easy pickings for your Ground- and Flying-Type attacks. The only member of Elite Four to return from the first generation is, ironically, one of the weakest of that game, Bruno. Though he’s got a bigger, more diverse team, he’s still a Fighting-Type specialist so you can easily best him with Psychic-Type moves. These are slightly negated against Karen, however, since she has Dark-Types on hand but, again, her Pokémon are dual-Types so you can balance things out with Fire- and Water-Type Pokémon. Your final challenge is against Lance, the Dragon-Type expert who’s now the Pokémon League Champion. Lance is easily the toughest Trainer battle so far…on paper, at least…since he has three Dragonites and even fan favourite Charizard on his team. However, but this point my Feraligatr was way overpowered and I managed to sweep his whole team using Bite, Surf, and Ice Punch without any issue. Toppling the Elite Four sees you and your team again entered into the Hall of Fame and declared Pokémon League Champion; you can battle the Elite Four again and again to earn more cash and level-up your team, but you’ll find challenge enough awaiting you in the post-League content.

Some of Kanto’s Gyms have undergone a bit of a reshuffle, with Blue installed as your final opponent.

Becoming the Pokémon League Champion earns you a ticket to board the S.S. Aqua and travel to Kanto, where you can not only explore the entirety of the region from the first game, battling new Pokémon Trainers with higher-level Pokémon, but also take on the eight Kanto Gym Leaders once more! Because you start in Vermillion City, the order you battle the Gym Leaders is mixed up; some are missing their puzzles and protégés as well, and all have bigger, more diverse teams and, though you’ll earn their Badges and they’ll be added to your total, you can’t view these on your Trainer Card and only two of them will award you TMs after you beat them. First up is Lieutenant Surge, now rocking two Electrode and an Electabuzz alongside his signature Raichu, but he was nothing compared to my overpowered Donphan. I got a bit mixed up and fought Misty next, which you can only do after fighting past the Nugget Trainers and interrupting her date; while her Water-Type Pokémon don’t stand much of a chance against a good Electric-Type Pokémon, this won’t help you against her Quagsire so maybe switch to a Grass-Type instead. I battled Erika next, who can be frustrating with her tendency to use Full restore, cast Sunny Day, and her ability to drain HP from your Pokémon, but at this point my Feraligatr’s Ice Punch and Suicune’s Aurora Beam were more than enough to topple her. Koga’s daughter, Janine, now resides in Fuschia City’s Gym but she uses Poison-Types just like her dad so you can get past her in much the same way you did him, and Brock and Sabrina are similarly easily taken out using Water- and Dark-Types, respectively. Since Cinnabar Island was wrecked by a volcanic eruption, you won’t find much of anything there except a Pokémon Center and Blue, the Viridian City Gym Leader, who directs you to the similarly barren Seafoam Islands to battle Blaine. Neither Blaine nor Blue have any underlings to worry about and, while Blue’s team is as diverse and powerful as ever, yours should be more than up to the task of matching him blow for blow and recapturing the Kanto Gym Badges.

As if Red wasn’t tough enough, the Legendary Beasts will flee from battle and the new Birds take a lot of Balls to snag!

With these in your possession, Professor Oak allows you access to Mount Silver and the game’s most taxing challenge of all: a battle against Red, the protagonist from the first game, who’s well-rounded team not only has great Type coverage but is also in the high-seventies (with his Pikachu being the highest-level Pokémon you’ll face in the game at a whopping Level 81). While battling Red is tough in and of itself, it’s made all the more difficult by the fact that you need all the GMs to even reach him, meaning you’re at a severe disadvantage since you’re either down a couple of Pokémon to make room for a HM slave or have had to substitute better moves for HMs. Aside from red, there are some one of a kind Pokémon to find in the wild, too: Sudowoodo block your paths and need triggering with the Squirtbottle, you’ll need to tune into Kanto’s radio stations to awaken the Snorlax blocking your path, a Shiny Gyarados waits in the Lake of Rage, and you’ll encounter a wild Lapras in Union Cave’s basement every Friday. Although Kanto’s Legendary Pokémon are entirely absent (the power plant is now up and running, Seafoam Islands is a simple cave, Victory Road has been rearranged, and Cerulean Cave is inaccessible), Johto’s are literally out and about to find. Entei and Raikou will randomly appear in different areas of Johto, fleeing immediately (or using Roar to scare your Pokémon off) and forcing you to use the PokéDex to track them down and use moves like Spider Web and Mean Look just to have a chance at catching them, damage and status attacks you inflict will carry over even if they flee, however, but these two are still a massive headache to get a hold of and Pokémon: Crystal makes things unnecessarily difficult by forcing you to have caught all three Legendary Beasts to even spawn an encounter with Legendary Bird, Ho-Oh, atop Tin Tower. Conversely, one of my favourite Pokémon, Lugia, can only be fought at Whirl Islands after reaching Pewter City and acquiring the Silver Wing, and all of these Legendary Pokémon (and some wild Pokémon) can be a chore to catch unless you inflict sleep or paralyse and whittle them down to a slither of health as they just love to break out of PokéBalls and, unlike the last games, where you obviously used the instant-catch Master Ball on Mewtwo, it can be tough to decide which Pokémon to use your Master Ball on here (though I’d recommend Ho-Oh).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Both Johto and Kanto are littered with pick-ups to be found, gifted from NPCs, or bought from PokéMarts. All the same healing and restorative items from the last games return, such was Potions, Revives, Awakenings, and Antidotes, though you can now find various Berries that have the same function and can be held and automatically used by Pokémon in battle. As you progress, PokéMarts will start to sell more advanced items, like Hyper Potions, Max Revive, Escape Ropes, PokéDolls to help you flee battles, and likes of X-Attack for a one-time stat boost. Vitamins and evolutionary stones a far harder to find on the overworld, but can be bought from Goldenrod and Celadon City’s Department Stores and are great for raising individual stats and quickly evolving Pokémon, and you’ll also find Nuggets to sell for cash (and sell most items you find) and key items like the Itemfinder, EXP All, and various rods. Another new addition to the game are held items that give your Pokémon certain boosts and buffs; Quick Claw can make them move faster, fr example, while Amulet Coin will double the cash you earn and Leftovers will see them restore a little bit of health between every move. Many of these will increase the power of certain Types, such as Charcoal powering-up Fire-Types, and some are even needed to be held for Pokémon to evolve.

There are more items than ever before, and even your radio can help you out in a pinch.

As ever, you’ll need a steady supply of PokéBalls if you want to catch ‘em all; these again come in three purchasable types (regular PokéBalls, slightly better Great Balls, and even better Ultra Balls), with the Master Ball being a one-of-a-kind, never-fail PokéBall that is best saved for a Legendary Pokémon. You can also find Acorns in trees and, when you give these to Kurt in Azalea Town, he’ll turn them into one of seven new PokéBalls after a day of waiting: Level Balls make catching lower level Pokémon easier, Friend Balls increase a Pokémon’s Happiness stat faster, Lure Balls make it easier to catch Pokémon encounter while fishing, Moon Balls make it easier to catch Pokémon that evolve using a Moon Stone, Heavy Balls are best used against heavier Pokémon, Fast Balls can be useful against Pokémon like Entei and Raikou who like to flee from battle, and Love Balls increase your chances of catching Pokémon of the opposite gender to your own. Like last time, TMs can only be used once, while HMs can only be unlearned using the Move Deleter, and different Pokémon level-up, breed, and hatch at different speeds and at different times of the day; some don’t learn useful moves for some time, others don’t learn any decent moves at all (I’m looking at you, Unown!) or moves that boost their stats, which is useless to me as I prefer to fill my move slots with offensive moves. Some Pokémon also don’t evolve at all, which can lower the incentive on using them as you don’t see as much progression when battling with them, while other Pokémon have abilities like Sweet Scent that can attract wild Pokémon, and you can also have Pokémon hold various mails to send messages to other Trainers you trade with.

Additional Features:
Although Generation two added one-hundred extra Pokémon to the original 151, “only” 223 are actually obtainable within the base Pokémon: Crystal game so you’ll need to trade with Gold, Silver, Red, Blue, and/or Yellow in order to complete the PokéDex and fulfil Professor Oak’s life dream and earn yourself a nifty little certificate for you efforts. A lot of your post-game time and energy will be spent catching, raising, trading, and breeding Pokémon to fulfil this objective, and the day/night cycle and new additions to the gameplay mean you are given far more options to evolve and acquire Pokémon. As mentioned, you can store a limited number of phone numbers on your PokéGear and battle Trainers again when they call you, or travel to Viridian City and make use of the Trainer House to battle either a random challenger or the last human player you fought against, which remains a fun addition, and battles and trades such as this are a great way to extend the life of the game and motivate you to getting your team up to the maximum level. Also, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the Game Corners trying to buy or earn the coins necessary to get those elusive Pokémon and traipsing around Johto trying to lure out the Legendary Beasts, but this generation of Pokémon remains my favourite for its unmatched post-Elite Four content.

Travel to Kanto in the post-game, tackle the Battle Tower, and spawn in a Celebi to catch!

As mentioned, you get to travel to Kanto after becoming the Pokémon League Champion! This, effectively, doubles the timespan of the game but, while Kanto is now populated with much tougher Trainers than before, your team should be more than capable of winning the day. Still, I’ve always loved this feature, and Kanto is notably different, too; towns, caves, and routes have been switched about, new Pokémon are included, and certain areas are either inaccessible or altered, which really shows the flow of time since the last games. You can talk to Red’s mother in Pallet Town, where you find out he took off and hasn’t been seen in years, get the power plant back up and running so you can hop on the Magnet Train, and pay a visit to the new radio tower in Lavender Town, which replaces the haunted Pokémon Tower. Viridian Forest is now gone, as is Cerulean Cave, and Mount Moon is much shorter than before, but I loved seeing Blue installed as the Viridian Gym Leader and just being able to explore this region again and really wish that subsequent Pokémon games had done something similar. Pokémon: Crystal is also notable for being the first game to include the Battle Tower; located just off the coast off Olivine City, this facility lets you battle other Trainers and awards you Vitamins for consecutive victories. Though never really something I’ve enjoyed, the Battle Tower is a fun extra inclusion, and even offers level and Pokémon restrictions to keep you from using Legendary Pokémon. Best of all, though, is that the 3DS version of the game includes the GS Ball event, meaning you can place the GS Ball in a shrine at Ilex Forest to spawn the elusive Celebi and finally, legitimately, catch the little blighter!

The Summary:
I’ll be the first to admit that, when it comes to the second generation of Pokémon games, I’m extremely biased when it comes to these games. For me, this was when Pokémon was at its peak of popularity; we were so desperate to play these new games and so captivated by the new Pokémon and mechanics, and while I’ve enjoyed Pokémon games since these, none of them have quite been able to recapture the magic of Johto. Consequently, it was an absolutely joy to finally play through Pokémon: Crystal; the game is such a massive step up from its predecessors, improving and refining basically everything from the first game and adding much-needed quality of life mechanics like the EXP bar, better item and Pokémon management, and vivid, impressively detailed graphics for such a basic handheld system. The new features offered in this generation were also fantastic; the day/night cycle was a fun little inclusion, one I missed from the Game Boy Advance titles, and adding breeding really helped to speed up PokéDex completion as you could raising Pokémon traditionally whilst also getting in the steps to hatch and egg and get Pokémon to breed all at the same time. Adding the ability to rebattle previous Trainers was great too, though the constant interruptions from phone calls does get annoying; while I love the aesthetic, detail, and colour of the game, I have to admit that Johto doesn’t really stand out all that much and is basically like a reskin of Kanto for the most part, but Pokémon: Crystal adds a few extra bells and whistles to compensate for that. Animating the Pokémon, for starters, really helps to make the game feel much more alive, as do all the additional attacks and battle animations that help the game feel faster, more action-packed, and less like a Tiger Electronics LCD game like in the first generation. Being able to play as a girl was a nice inclusion, as was the attempt to expand on the Legendary Beasts by giving Suicune a larger role, but ultimately these aspects and the rival system weren’t as prominent as they could’ve been. Thankfully, the new Pokémon more than make up for this, with some of my all-time favourites being found in Johto (Ampahros, Lugia, Houndoom, Typhlosion, and Marill, to name a handful), and I loved seeing how the world has changed since the last game. Of course, this is best seen in the still-unmatched post-game content; letting you travel to, explore, and challenge Kanto once more was an ingenious idea and makes the game feel so much bigger than even some of the Nintendo DS titles, which generally settled for the Battle Frontier and little else. Add to that the tough-as-nails battle against Red, the ability to trade to the previous generation, and the addition of Celebi to the game and you have what very well may be the definitive version of classic Pokémon for me.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Are you a fan of Pokémon: Crystal Version:? How do you think it compares to the original games and which of the second generation titles was your favourite? What did you think to the new mechanics introduced here, like breeding, genders, and the day/night cycle? Did you struggle against Whitney and her Miltank? What did you think to the rival? Did you enjoy getting to revisit Kanto and did you ever capture Entei and Raikou? Which of the Pokémon games, and titular monsters, is your favourite? How are you planning to celebrate National Pokémon Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Pokémon, sign up to leave them below or drop your comments on my social media and be sure to check in next week for more Pokémon content!

Game Corner [PokéMonth]: Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition (Nintendo 3DS)

Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, and watching the feature-length movies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day”, which I’m expanding to an entire month of Pokémon every Tuesday in February.

Released: 27 February 2016
Originally Released: 12 September 1998
Developer: Nintendo
Original Developer: Game Freak
Also Available For: Game Boy

The Background:
Although I’ve talked about Pokémon quite a bit in the past, a review of one of the classic titles is long overdue. Initially developed as Capsule Monsters, Pokémon was the brainchild of game designer Satoshi Tajiri, who spent his childhood collecting insects and sought to make a videogame around the same subject, one that emphasised exploration and collecting rather than needless violence. It was the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto who suggested producing two GameBoy cartridges to realise Tajiri’s dream of allowing players to trade and battle using the system’s Link Cables. Artist and long-time friend of Tajiri Ken Sugimori spearheaded the designs of the titular Pokémon alongside a handful of others (including Atsuko Nishida) than ten people who conceived the various designs for all 151 Pokémon, and the original Pocket Monsters: Red and Green proved an immediate hit in their native Japan and were soon followed by a third version, Pocket Monsters: Blue, which included upgraded sprites, alternative dialogue, and other gameplay tweaks. This was the version of the game that served as the basis for Pokémon: Blue and Red, which became an instant cultural phenomenon upon release in the West.

Just as Pokémon: Yellow was influenced by the anime, so too did it impact later Pokémon videogames.

For its international release, Pokémon was accompanied by an aggressive multimedia marketing strategy and ancillary merchandise; much of this revolved around franchise mascot Pikachu, who was at the forefront of the still-ongoing anime series, which served as the perfect accompaniment to the videogames. So popular was Pikachu, and the anime, that a fourth version of the game was produced to capitalise on both; Pokémon: Yellow Version not only featured all-new battle sprites and gameplay mechanics, but also contained characters, references, and alterations based on the anime. The game was made to coincide with the franchise’s first feature-length adventure, was the last Game Boy title released for the system outside of Japan, and became the fastest-selling handheld game of all time upon release. Because it was essentially the same highly praised videogame as before, Pokémon: Yellow Version was highly praised; while some questioned its release and viability considering all-new Pokémon games were set to be released, critics noted that the game offered just enough to keep fans and newcomers happy. Pokémon: Yellow Version was pretty influential; the gameplay mechanic of having a Pokémon following the player’s avatar around would return in later titles, the game received a manga adaptation, and it was eventually released on the 3DS Virtual Console with the ability to communicate with the then-current Pokémon titles.

The Plot:
The time has come for you and your childhood rival to receive your very own Pokémon from Professor Oak, However, you arrival too late and are lumbered with a disobedient Pikachu to accompany you as you challenge the eight Kanto Gym Leaders in a bid to become a Pokémon Master. Your journey is also fraught with danger as the vindictive Team Rocket seeks to steal Pokémon for their own nefarious ends, to say nothing of having genetically created the most powerful Pokémon of all!

Just like its predecessors, Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition is a top-down role-playing game (RPG) in which players are introduced to the wonderful world of Pokémon by the kindly, if forgetful, Professor Oak. After naming your avatar and your rival, you’re charged with heading out into the Kanto region, exploring fields, caves, and buildings in search of Pokémon, powerful native creatures that are used to trade, raise, and battle with other Pokémon Trainers. If you’ve played Pokémon: Red, Blue, or even Green before, you’ll be immediately familiar with the concept but, even though it lacks the influx of hand-holding and mandatory tutorials of the modern games, Pokémon: Yellow does a good job of introducing you to the context and mechanics of the game and then sending you on your way to figure things out for yourself or find clues by chatting to the many non-playable characters (NPCs) scattered throughout Kanto. Since it released on the Game Boy, Pokémon: Yellow has a very simply two-button control system and user interface; I say “simple” for this latter aspect as it’s both easy to navigate and incredibly restrictive. You can open your bag to view your inventory from the pause screen, and your items will be listed in the order you picked them up; you can shuffle them about using the ‘Select’ button but your inventory is limited, so you’ll need to deposit some items on your PC to make room. Your PC inventory is similarly arranged; everything’s in a list here and there’s no onscreen text to tell you what items do, so it can be a little tricky to navigate and figure things out at times. Gameplay is divided into two distinct modes: exploring towns and other areas, and battling Pokémon. In the former, you wander around on a four-way grid, chatting to NPCs with A, activating switches, and picking up items; if you enter grass, you’re very likely going to trigger an encounter with a wild Pokémon, who also spontaneously attack in caves and when traversing the sea. When this happens, the game switches to a battle screen in which you and your opponent take turns to inflict damage or status effects on each other, or use in-battle items to heal or relieve status effects or try and capture the Pokémon. You also have the option to run, however if the opposing Pokémon is at a higher level than yours or you’re in a Trainer battle this option is either limited or completely restricted.

A diverse team with wide Type coverage is key to besting your opposition and growing stronger.

Pokémon battles operate using a “Type” system that is, essentially, a version of Rock/Paper/Scissors; Water-Type Pokémon will be more effective against Fire-Type Pokémon, for example, while Grass-Types trump Water and are weak to Fire. There are fifteen different Types of Pokémon in the game and each has different capabilities against the other; Normal-Type Pokémon moves won’t have any effect against Ghost-Types and will barely touch Rock-Types, for example. It’s a pretty simple system to figure out and battle text will always tell you if moves are “Super effective” or “Not very effective” so you can figure out the best course of attack; location, Pokémon names, and their colouring and appearance can also clue you in on the best attack strategy, too. So, if you’re in a cave and encounter a Zubat, you’ll probably want to use an Electric- or Rock-Type attack to inflict maximum damage and if the opposing Pokémon is blue or encountered at sea, it’s mostly likely a Water-Type. Unlike in the previous games, you’re forced to start your journey with a Pikachu, one who refuses to stay in its PokéBall and who follows you around on the overworld. You can interact with Pikachu at any time and the game stresses treating it well so that it shows more affection towards you, though unlike in the modern games this has no real in-game benefits and you can just as easily deposit it in a PC and never use it. Having Pikachu is an issue in the early game as your first real challenge is Rock-Type Pokémon Gym Leader Brock, so you’ll need to explore the nearby towns and fields to catch a Fighting- or Grass-Type Pokémon to actually stand a chance against his Pokémon, but the game has a pretty consistent difficulty curve. Early wild Pokémon and Pokémon Trainers are all low-level Pokémon with limited moves, and you’re generally always at an advantage as your Pokémon usually always have higher stats. Pokémon battles will award you with experience points (EXP); earn enough, and your Pokémon will level-up, which will increase their Hit Points (HP), Attack, Defence, Speed, and Special stats and thus make them more powerful and more capable in battle. Unlike in later games, there’s no onscreen indication of your EXP progress unless you manually head into the menu screen, which can make levelling-up a bit of a chore.

Be mindful of the nearest Pokémon center as you’ll need them to heal from battles and status effects.

While you can get pretty far with just one or two powerful Pokémon, it’s recommended that you have a diverse team with decent Type coverage in their moves; many Pokémon can learn moves either from levelling-up or from Technical Machines (TMs) that are of a different Type, so you can have a Water-Type Pokémon bust out Ice- or Psychic-Type moves, which can make them more useful in battles, and you can both swap out your Pokémon to share the EXP gained from battles and earn hidden Effort Value (EV) points by consecutively battling certain Pokémon (so, for example, if you battle a bunch of Geodude in a row, you’ll gain an extra boost to your Defence when you level-up) and you can also find (or purchase, for an extortionate price) Vitamins that will boost individual stats. While it’s important to consider things like this in battle, and the moveset of your diverse team, it’s not always that necessary and is only as complicated as you make it; I usually settle for my starter Pokémon being about ten levels higher than my other Pokémon, then train up the rest in teams of two (usually Water/Fire, Electric/Psychic, and a wild card) to have a consistently strong team. If you walk in front of another Pokémon Trainer, they’ll initiate an inescapable battle with you; in a Trainer battle, you can’t run or catch the opposing Pokémon, and trainers have all the same options as you while not being limited by Power Points (PP). This means that they can swap out their Pokémon, heal or buff them, and they can attack without fear of running out of PP; each move has a different amount of PP, from five to thirty, which dictates how often you can use that move. When you run out of PP, you can’t use that attack anymore until you replenish it with an Elixir or restore your Pokémon at a Pokémon Center; if all your PP is drained, your only option is to “struggle”, which inflicts some serious recoil damage, so it’s wise to use your best moves sparingly. In battle, Pokémon will take damage; when their HP is drained, they’ll faint and need to be revived with a Revive or for free at a Pokémon Center but, if all of your Pokémon faint, you’ll “black out”, lose some money, and respawn at the last Pokémon Center you visited. You also need to be wary of status effects, however; some Pokémon attacks will cause you to flinch (essentially miss a turn) or become confused (which can cause your Pokémon to hurt themselves) and, in this version of the game, have a tendency to miss entirely or land “critical hits” for extra damage, but Pokémon can also be put to sleep, paralysed, poisoned, frozen, and burned, all of which will either drain your HP or leave you vulnerable to attack. You can undo these status effects using certain items, but even if you emerge victorious your Pokémon will still steadily lose health on the overworld if poisoned, so you’ll either need to keep your inventory well stocked or be mindful of the nearest Pokémon Center.

Level-up your Pokémon to evolve them, give them nicknames, or store them in Bill’s PC system.

Winning Trainer battles also nets you PokéDollars, which you can spent in PokéMarts and at vending machines on healing items and other useful gear to help you out in battle or in raising your Pokémon. Items and Pokémon are stored in PCs when you run out of room (you can only have six Pokémon at a time, so any additional Pokémon are automatically transferred to your PC, though you’ll need to heal them if you choose to use them) and the game allows you to manually save your progress at any time (though you only get one save file to use). I recommend saving frequently, and especially before Gym Leader battles or encounters with Legendary Pokémon as this allows you to reset the game on the off-chance that you’re defeated, thus sparing you from losing money. You’re given two primary goals in the game: Battle the eight Gym Leaders to earn their badges and challenge the Pokémon League and complete Professor Oak’s PokéDex, which you do by capturing every Pokémon in the game. When you encounter a Pokémon, its basic data is stored in this encyclopaedia so you can see where it appears on the overworld; you can then hunt it down and catch it and either try to capture its next form or “evolve” it by levelling-up, using special stones, or trading it. The majority of Pokémon will evolve into at least one extra form through levelling-up, which will add their new form’s data to the PokéDex and make them stronger; you can cancel evolution at any time by pressing B and this is sometimes recommended as Pokémon learn moves faster in their weaker forms and some moves can only be learned prior to evolution. Similarly, each Pokémon can only know four moves at a time; when it grows strong enough to learn a new move, you can choose to either replace an existing move or not learn the new one, but you’ll need to visit the Move Deleter to do this outside of levelling-up or to forget Hidden Machine (HM) moves. When you capture a Pokémon, you’re given the option of nicknaming it; again, this doesn’t really do anything beyond personalising them to your Trainer and your characters are limited, but it’s a nice touch for making your team unique.

Side quests, some basic puzzles, and some fun little mini games are on offer to spice things up.

Navigation in Pokémon: Yellow is pretty simple; you can get a town map early on (or view them in Pokémon Centers) that shows you the different towns, locations, and “Routes” you can travel, but your progress is constantly restricted by trees, bodies of water, dark caves, and patches of grass. You can climb ladders to reach different levels of caves, hop over ledges for shortcuts, and get past these obstacles with HMs but you’ll progressively earn more convenient ways to travel across the map. Pokémon like Abra can Teleport you back to the last Pokémon Center you visited, Escape Ropes will allow you to quickly exit any areas you’re in, you’ll acquire a bike that dramatically speeds up your movement speed, and you’ll eventually be able to fly and surf to quickly get around the overworld. Some areas will require some rudimentary puzzle solving, generally involving pressing switches (either hidden ones or by pushing boulders onto them) to open doors, teleporting using special pads, or spinning around in maze-like environments. You’ll also be given some fetch quests to complete that will open up new areas and gift you items, need to acquire keys and tickets to open doors or access locations, and be able to trade (or buy…) with NPCs to acquire new Pokémon. Trading can also be done in Pokémon Centers, which allows you to trade Pokémon with a friend (or battle them, if you like) to get Pokémon that aren’t in the game or evolve certain Pokémon, like Haunter/Gengar. Traded Pokémon level-up faster then regular Pokémon, though you can’t change their nicknames and they’ll always have the Trainer ID of their original Trainer. You also need to be mindful of levelling-up too quickly; if you’re Pokémon is too high a level, and you don’t have the appropriate Badge, they may disobey you by ignoring your commands or loafing around. In addition to the slot machines available to play in the Celadon City Game Corner and the Safari Zone in Fuchsia City (which gives you a time limit to catch rare Pokémonby baiting or angering them), Pokémon: Yellow also adds printer functionality for the Game Boy Printer and a cute little mini game that lets you net points by pulling of mad tricks with your surfing Pikachu!

Graphics and Sound:
Since it released on the original Game Boy, Pokémon: Yellow is pretty limited in terms of its graphics and visual presentation compared to later games in the series, but I think these early Pokémon games still did a really good job of making the most of their limited hardware. While most of the towns don’t really look that different, they vary in size and colour palette and all have a unique music track associated with them; some have larger buildings like the Celadon City Department Store, a science museum, and the haunted Pokémon Tower, while others are flanked by caves, bodies of water, or are literally islands in the middle of the ocean. Towns all contain a number of houses with NPCs to talk to, some of whom will give you hints, items, or side quests to progress further; Routes are sometimes blocked by trees or a sleeping Snorlax, and you’ll find fun elements to interact with, like a Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems (SNES) in your bedroom, Mr. Psychic, and Copycat. Routes are generally littered with Pokémon Trainers, grass, and items to find but some items are hidden from view; you can tap A to pick these up at random but an Itemfinder will help by emitting a beep whenever a hidden item is nearby, and HMs like Cut and Flash will make short work of trees, grass, and dark caves to help you progress.

Though essentially the same game, Pokémon: Yellow is bolstered by a new colour palette and new additions.

Sprites are all pretty adorable as well; while many NPCs all look the same, they have a lot of personality in the things they say and all have an appreciation or some kind of advice to give regarding Pokémon. Your avatar is clearly recognisable despite the limited graphics and colour palette, and you’ll always be able to spot your rival, Gym Leaders, and agents of team Rocket thanks to their unique sprites and accompanying themes. In Pokémon: Yellow, Pikachu is your constant companion, waddling around behind you on the overworld and spitting out a grainy, but ambitious, cry of “Pika!” when thrown into battle. Pikachu has unique entrance and exit animations in battle since it doesn’t use a PokéBall, but otherwise battles remain largely the same; limited animation frames are used to convey the impact of moves on Pokémon and the moves themselves are represented by the screen shaking, flashing lights, and partially animated sprite work that is largely reused over and over. You can actually turn battle animations off in the settings, which speeds the game up a bit, but takes away some of the fun in my opinion; still, the frame rate can struggle a bit at times both in and out of battle, and you’ll find the Pokémon cries are a little distorted because of the hardware. Pokémon: Yellow completely overhauls the in-battle sprites of the Pokémon and adds in numerous influences from the anime in the form of additional NPCs who gift you new Pokémon, Chansey’s being in Pokémon  Centers, and Jesse and James of Team Rocket fame, which helps add a little visual flair to the game but I really don’t care for many of the new battle sprite designs. Finally, all of the jaunty, memorable tunes are here to enjoy in all their chip-tune glory, and the game features a brand new intro video and theme tune as well.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you journey around Kanto, you’ll encounter a variety of wild Pokémon out in the field and in use by a number of different Pokémon Trainers. Wild Pokémon start off at a low level, usually between three and six, and stay at that level in each area; a level four Caterpie you encountered in Viridian Forest will stay level four when you return in the post-game, but wild Pokémon levels increase as you journey to new areas, meaning you’ll face progressively tougher opposition as you go on, which will help you to grow stronger on a rising curve. Your ability to weaken these Pokémon for capture or defeat them entirely is directly tied to your current level and the moves you know; if your Pokémon are under-levelled, you’ll face a tough time even with the Type advantage, but if you bring a Normal-Type into a cave or a Fire-Type to the sea then you may struggle even if you’re at a higher level. This is true of the Pokémon Trainers you encounter; while they start off pretty simple and use weak Pokémon like Rattata and Pidgey, they eventually use more formidable and evolved Pokémon and also have more on hand. They’ll also withdraw them, heal them, or buff them with items and, while the enemy A.I. can be janky and easily exploitable at times, Pokémon Trainers tend to use moves that have a Type advantage over your current Pokémon. Still, with the right training regime and a diverse team, you can easily overcome every opponent you face; simply take some time between Gym battles to level-up, maybe focus on developing certain stats, and bringing your team as close to the level cap as possible, utilising moves that are super effective and sharing EXP wherever you can, and you can easily trample over the opposition once you’ve gotten past the uphill battle at the start of the game.

As if Team Rocket wasn’t bad enough, your asshole rival constantly pops up to challenge you.

Your most persistent foes in the game are the nefarious Team Rocket; easily identifiable by their black attire and caps, this gang of Poké-nappers have taken over buildings and even entire towns in a bid to steal Pokémon for their own evil uses or to acquire technology like the Silph Scope and Master Ball. For the most part, Team Rocket grunts aren’t much different from other Pokémon Trainers you encounter and are actually fairly predictable as they stick to common Pokémon like Zubat and Ekans, but you’ll also have to battle the duo of Jesse and James a few times throughout the story as these buffoons have been added in as sub-boss battles in key areas of the game. Like their anime counterparts, Jesse and James use Koffing/Weezing, Ekans/Arbok, and Meowth in battle and even spout their famous catchphrase, though they’re basically just another grunt to fight past rather than being pivotal to the plot. Another recurring obstacle is your rival; this arrogant and rude little git will pop up at the worst times, challenging you to a battle to prove his superiority over you and changing up his team as the game progresses to show how he’s tried to amass the most powerful Pokémon team possible. Unlike in the previous games, your rival starts off with an Eevee, which he eventually evolves into either Flareon, Jolteon, or Vaporeon (in my case, it was Flareon), and your rival will be both the first Pokémon Trainer you battle and the last as he eventually manages to become the Pokémon League Champion in keeping with his annoying ability to always stay one step ahead of you. While your rival can be a tricky customer, a diverse and high-levelled team can easily fend him off; in my game, he ended up with a team of Sandslash, Alakazam, Exeggutor, Cloyster, Magneton, and Flareon so it’s simply a case of shuffling your team so that your Water-Type goes out first and then swapping out your Pokémon between each knock out so you can hit a super effective move or have a better chance to resisting his attacks. Probably his biggest advantage is speed, as he often has Pokémon that have higher Speed stats, his Type coverage, and his eventually use of Potions and buffs to keep his team going strong but you can overcome him at every turn if you just take the time to do some grinding.

Eight Gyms await you, some with puzzles to solve beforehand, but they’re easily bested with grinding.

In your quest to challenge the Elite Four, you’ll need to travel to at least eight different towns and battle the eight Kanto Gym Leaders. Each Gym Leader specialises in a specific Pokémon Type and is protected by a number of protégés, but some Gyms even include little puzzles that you have to solve. You’ll need to investigate the bins in Lieutenant Surge’s Gym to lower the electrical barrier protecting up, navigate an invisible maze in Koga’s Gym, take an optional quiz in Blane’s Gym, and travel along spinning pads in Giovanni’s Gym. Other times, Gyms will be closed, locked, or otherwise barred and you’ll need to go on a short (or long, in the case of the last Gym) side quest to gain access but, once inside, you can often choose to avoid fighting the minions if you don’t feel like it (but I don’t recommend this as you’ll miss out on some EXP and cash). Since each Gym specialises in a Pokémon Type, the game pushes you to have a diverse team on hand, but you can often find helpful Pokémon in the wild nearby that can counteract the Gym’s specialty. Things start off relatively easily; as long as you can grab a Mankey, you can easily take out Brock, and your Pikachu will absolutely trounce Misty, but things can get difficult when fighting Lt. Surge and his Raichu…unless you’ve been grinding or snagged a Diglett from the nearby cave. By the time you reach Koga, you should be powerful and varied enough to easily overcome every subsequent Gym, though he and Erika can cause issues by inflicting status effects with their Poison- and Grass-Type Pokémon. Blaine can also be tough because of his powerful Arcanine, but you can easily overpower him with a Water-Type if you’ve been training one for a while. Giovanni, the leader of team Rocket who you battle prior to tackling him in his Gym, is heralded as Kanto’s most powerful Gym Leader but, while he has some intimidating Pokémon on hand, his focus on Ground-Type moves means a Water- or Flying-Type can significantly neuter this threat (especially if you snagged Articuno earlier).

The Elite Four are a tough prospect, but bested with smart training, item use, and a diverse team.

Defeating the Gym Leaders nets you not just a big cash payout and their Gym badge, but also a TM that allows you to teach their favourite move to one of your team. You’ll need every one of these Gym Badges, and most of the HMs, to navigate through Victory Road, a cave full of high-level Pokémon (and a great place to level-up your team) that stands as your final challenge before the Elite Four, the most formidable Pokémon Trainers in all of Kanto but, before you can reach them. Thankfully, there’s a makeshift Pokémon Center and PokéMart right before the Elite Four, so you can heal up and buy some restorative items before tackling them, and you’ll probably need these as you have to face all four Trainers in a row, and the champion, without any healing breaks in between, so you’re left with your team and the items you have on you. Lorelei and Bruno don’t really pose much of a problem; focusing on Water- and Ice-Type and Fighting-Type Pokémon respectively, you’re in a great position to overwhelm them with your Pikachu, which should be about level sixty by this point, and an Ice- or Psychic-Type Pokémon like Kadabra or Poliwrath. Agatha is a bit of a hurdle, however; specialising in Ghost-Type Pokémon, her Gengar’s love to confuse you, put you to sleep, and drain your health with their moves, so again it’s helpful to have a strong Psychic-Type Pokémon on you. Lance is probably the most unique challenge in the whole game as he utilises Dragon-Type Pokémon, a Type that you really don’t encounter anywhere else in the game except in the safari Zone. Sporting powerful moves like Thunderbolt, Hyper Beam, Ice Beam, and Dragon Rage, his Dragonairs and Dragonite can be tough to get past unless you have Ice- or Dragon-Type Pokémon or moves of your own, which you definitely will if you snagged Articuno our taught Ice Beam to someone on your team. After you topple the,, and the champion, Professor Oak registers you and your team in the Hall of Champions and you can review this, and any subsequent victories, from your PC after the credits roll.

Four powerful, Legendary Pokémon await you in the game’s toughest areas.

Although you’re given a multitude of opportunities to catch the wild Pokémon encountered in the game, some are much rarer than others. In Mount Moon and the Fighting Dojo, you’ll be given the opportunity to pick from one of two Pokémon (with the former being fossilised and needing to be restored on Cinnabar Island), immediately meaning that you won’t be able to acquire the other without trading. You can win (or buy) Game Coins to purchase rare Pokémon in Celadon City, encounter unique Pokémon like Kangaskhan and Dratini in the Safari Zone, and, while you’ll battle an enraged Marowak, the only way to acquire one is to evolve a Cubone. Similarly, you’ll have just two chances to capture a Snorlax as the bulbous Pokémon block your path in two places, but you’ll only get one chance to catch the three Legendary birds, Articuno, Moltres, and Zapdos. These powerful elemental birds are found in Seafoam Islands, Victory Road, and the Power Plant, respectively, and you absolutely need to save before battling them as they won’t appear again if you knock them out and save after. You’ll also need a hefty supply of PokéBalls, Pokémon moves that inflict paralysis, freezing, or sleep, and a whole lot of luck and patience as the game’s annoying tendency to have balls “miss” can make these battles needlessly frustrating. When trying to catch the bird son this play through, I continuously ran out of Ultra Balls or kept knocking the birds out, but then random managed to catch each within five throws of a weaker Great Ball, so go figure. After besting the Elite Four, Cerulean Cave will open up; this cavernous area is a great place to level-up and find some new items, but is also home to the most powerful Pokémon in the entire game, Mewtwo. This genetically-engineered, Psychic-Type Pokémon can deliver massive damage with Psychic and even heal itself with recover but, while it’s entirely possible to capture it using status effects and Ultra Balls, it’s much easier to simply toss the never-miss, one-throw capture Master Ball at it and add it to your team to wipe out all subsequent challenges.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore the wide land of Kanto, you’ll find plenty of pick-ups strewn around, be gifted them from NPCs, or will be able to buy a variety of items from PokéMarts. These include healing items like Potions, Super Potions, and Hyper Potions, restorative items like Revive and Max Revive, and status-healing items like Awakening and Antidote. These are relatively commonplace, though are not widely available across the region; the PokéMart in Pewter City will forever sell the basic PokéBalls and Potions, while only the more expensive items are available in Celadon City and at Victory Road. Other items can also be acquired that can aid you in battle; PokéDolls can help you flee from battle, the likes of X-Defend will boost your stats for that battle, and you can snag a PokéFlute that lets you wake up sleeping Pokémon without having to constantly buy Awakenings. Vitamins and evolutionary stones are far harder to find on the overworld, but can be bought from Celadon City’s Department Store and are great for raising individual stats and quickly evolving Pokémon to their more powerful forms, and you can also fend of random encounters with repels, find Nuggets to sell for cash (and sell most items you find), a Coin Case to play slot machines, and key items like the Itemfinder and EXP All if you capture enough Pokémon to appease Professor Oak’s aide.

Buy, find, or acquire items to boost your abilities, progress the story, and learn new moves.

One of the most common items you’ll need are PokéBalls; these come in three purchasable types (regular PokéBalls, slightly better Great Balls, and even better Ultra Balls) and you’ll need a lot of them to complete your PokéDex, especially as they often miss when tossed at their target. The Master Ball is a one-of-a-kind, never-fail PokéBall that is best saved for Mewtwo, and you’ll also need to plan out exactly how you want to use your TMs as these can only be used once. Some can be bought for Game Coins, but mostly you get one use and that’s it; conversely, HMs can be used multiple times but you’ll need to visit the Move Deleter to unlearn them. As you level-up, your Pokémon will learn new moves, with their most powerful moves becoming available if you put the effort into raising them. Some are harder to evolve than others as they level-up slower or don’t learn decent moves for some time, others mainly learn moves that boost their speed, attack, or defence, which doesn’t help me as I prefer to fill my move slots with attacking moves. Some Pokémon also don’t evolve at all, which can lower the incentive on using them as you don’t see as much progression when using them.

Additional Features:
Of the 151 Pokémon available in this generation, 137 are available to catch or own in Pokémon: Yellow either by evolving or trading in-game. As you play, you can consult with Professor Oak on your progress and he’ll offer feedback and tips for where to catch new Pokémon, and you’ll need the three fishing rods and the HMs to find all the Pokémon available in the game. Even if you catch or evolve everything available, you’ll still need to trade with a copy of Pokémon: Red and/or Blue to complete the PokéDex; although you unfortunately still have no legitimate way to acquire the elusive Mew, you don’t need it to complete the PokéDex and will be gifted with high praise from Professor Oak and even a certificate from the game’s developers. While many of the areas you visit are mandatory, some are optional; you can explore caves to find new Pokémon and shortcuts, bring water to checkpoint guards to make travelling a lot easier, and tackle the Fighting Dojo to earn either Hitmonchan or Hitmonlee. Although there’s no way to battle any of the Pokémon Trainers or Gym Leaders again after you’ve beaten them, the aforementioned Seafoam Islands, Victory Road, and the Power Plant all include diverging paths that lead to one of the Legendary Birds, and you can challenge the Elite Four and the champion over and over again to level your team up to the maximum level and earn big cash to spend in the Game Corner and snag those rare Pokémon and items. You can revisit the Safari Zone as often as you can afford the entry fee and search about for the rare Pokémon found there, and pull off a few glitches to both allow these Pokémon to appear in the overworld and duplicate your items (though you risk corrupting your save file if you do this). Post-game content is primarily focused on completing the PokéDex and travelling to the Cerulean Cave to capture Mewtwo; otherwise, you’ll probably be spending most of your time grinding, capturing, or trading and battling with other players using the online functionality.

The Summary:
It’s been a long time since I played the first generation of Pokémon and it is a little jarring returning to a simpler time before many of the gameplay mechanics and quality of life improvements that were introduced in subsequent games. The core gameplay is still there, and it’s just as simple to get to grips with the mechanics once you get going, but there’s no denying that things are much slower and more aggravating in Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition. The lack on an in-battle EXP bar, the messy organisation of the PCs and inventory, and not being able to keep track of the Pokémon you’ve caught outside of viewing the PokéDex make things a bit tedious as you’re constantly going back and forth and scrolling between menus (you even need to manually activate HMs rather than the option simply appearing when you press A near objects). Battles are made incredibly frustrating due to the janky A.I. that sees critical hits, confused attacks, missed moves and missed PokéBalls dragging things down, and many of the new artwork for the Pokémon really is incredibly ugly. On the plus side, though, this remains a timeless gaming experience; everything you loved about the first generation of Pokémon is here, plus a little more thanks to the influences from the anime: while it’s annoying that you can’t evolve your Pikachu, it’s cute having it following you around and saying its name and playing the surfing mini game, and I loved seeing Jess and James pop up as opponents (I just wish they had played a bigger role in the narrative). Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition is certainly the definitive game of the first generation, allowing you to acquire all three of the Kanto starters and offering a variety of Pokémon previously exclusive to its predecessors and even including new layouts for some areas. While subsequent sequels quickly made these first games irrelevant by improving every aspect of the presentation and gameplay, there’s still a lovely hit of nostalgia to be found here and Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition remains as entertaining now, despite its flaws, as it was back in the day.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition? How do you think it compares to the original games, and which of the first generation titles was your favourite? Did you enjoy having Pikachu as your partner or did you just leave it in a box? Which of the Gym Leaders did you struggle against? Did you nickname your Pokémon and who made it into your final team? Did you ever complete the PokéDex? Which of the Pokémon games, and titular monsters, is your favourite? How are you planning to celebrate National Pokémon Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Pokémon, sign up to leave them below or drop your comments on my social media and be sure to check in next week for more Pokémon content!

Game Corner [Sonic 2sday]: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2013; Nintendo 3DS)

After the release of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), Sonic had firmly established himself as the hot new icon on the block and catapulted SEGA to the forefront of the Console Wars. Anticipation was high for a sequel and, in keeping with their aggressive marketing strategies, SEGA dubbed November 24, 1992 as “Sonic 2sday”, a marketing stunt that not only heralded the worldwide release of the bigger, better sequel but changed the way the videogame industry went about releasing games for years to come.


Released: June 2013
Originally Released: 29 October 1992
Developer: SEGA
Original Developer: Aspect
Also Available For: GameCube, Game Gear, Master System, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

The Background:
I went into great detail about just how important a release Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992) was for SEGA; hot off an aggressive marketing campaign and the incredible sales of the first game, Sonic 2 saw SEGA’s supersonic mascot catapulted into mainstream popularity and success. Like with the first game, SEGA also commissioned an 8-bit version of the game; unlike its predecessor, Sonic 2’s 8-bit version was developed by Aspect and, unlike its 16-bit counterpart (and despite the game’s title cards), it did not feature Sonic’s new sidekick, Miles “Tails” Prower, as a playable character. Similar to the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog, I first played the 8-bit Sonic 2 on the Master System, before its 16-bit counterpart, and the game was noticeably different from its equivalent. Despite being more difficult on the Game Gear, the 8-bit Sonic 2 scored high upon release and, even years later when it was re-released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console, it was praised for not being a mere clone of its Mega Drive cousin.

The Plot:
Doctor Eggman is back! This time, he’s kidnapped Sonic’s new friend, Tails, and invaded South Island in search of the six Chaos Emeralds once more. Only Sonic has the speed, the skills, and the attitude to bust up Dr. Eggman’s Badniks, find the Chaos Emeralds, and rescue Tails from the egg-shaped madman’s grasp.

Like its predecessor, and pretty much every Sonic the Hedgehog videogame, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which you must guide Sonic through seven stages (referred to as “Zones”) with three levels (referred to as “Acts”) each. Unlike in the 16-bit game of the same name, Sonic’s arsenal remains unchanged from the previous title; pressing any button will see him become a whirling ball of spikes and allow him to break open power-up monitors and smash Dr. Eggman’s Badniks with his patented “Super Sonic Spin Attack” and you can also put him into a similar spin by pressing down on the directional pad (D-Pad) when running along or down slopes. Pressing up or down also lets you scroll the screen vertically but, otherwise, that’s it for Sonic. While he doesn’t have the Spin Dash here, Sonic is noticeably much faster than in the last game; the game, overall, runs much smoother than its predecessor and there are numerous quality of life improvements as well. While the heads-up display (HUD) is still limited, with your Golden Rings counter still rolling over to zero after you collect more the ninety-nine Rings and your life counter capped at nine despite you accumulating more lives in the end of Act score screen, you can now recollect a few Rings when you’re hit, which is a hell of a boon over the last game, and there’s far less periods of slowdown unless you’re underwater.

The game’s much bigger and smoother than its predecessor, if still restricted by its hardware.

There are, however, some noticeable omissions that make the game much harder. Gone are the Arrow Monitors and neither Signposts or Starposts are present, meaning that you’ll need to restart the entire Act if you lose a life. There’s also far less benefit to finishing Acts with fifty Rings or more; sometimes you’ll get a Ring or life bonus but there are no Special Stages to play this time around and, while extra life monitors can be found in Zones (usually off the beaten track or hidden behind hidden walls), these bonuses are much less prevalent than in the last game. Finally, while it’s great that the sprites are bigger and much more detailed, screen size is a real issue in the 8-bit Sonic 2; I don’t recall it being as big an issue in the Master System version but the Game Gear version definitely suffers from bottomless pits, spike pits, and other hazards being hidden off screen and, in a first for me, respawning Badniks whenever you leave the screen. Where the 8-bit Sonic 2 excels, though, is in its clear desire to mix things up a bit more. It bares absolutely no resemblance to its 16-bit counterpart and instead features entirely different Zones; while some are familiar, and their gimmicks are similar, the two are like night and day. This is seen right away in the first Zone, Underground Zone, which is a far cry from the bright, colourful levels that generally open Sonic games. This Zone features destructible blocks (which make their 8-bit debut here), ceiling spikes, lava pits, and, of course, the mine cart gimmick that appears again later in the game. Sonic’s options while riding a mine cart are limited to simply jumping from it before he meets a sudden end but your options are even more limited in Scrambled Egg Zone’s fast-paced tubes.

Spike pits are plentiful but the game’s finicky bubble and hang glider are a massive aggravation.

Similar tubes last you around in other Zones but these will require split-second decision making on your part and will often return you to the beginning of the maze, at best, or spit you out onto a spike pit or into the path of a Badnik at worst. You can also skim over the surface of the water in Aqua Lake Zone and explore its underwater ruins, collecting air bubbles to breathe and desperately fighting with the game’s clunky controls as you navigate Sonic through narrow, spike-filled tunnels while trapped in a big bubble. The 8-bit Sonic 2 also features the game’s trademark loop-de-loops, which appear most prominently in Green Hills Zone, a stage that features many uphill slopes and blind jumps over long spike pits. You’ll also roll around on spinning cogs in Gimmick Mountain Zone, bash through Dr. Eggman-branded blocks in Crystal Egg Zone, and generally find that most of the game’s Zones are much bigger and more difficult to navigate as a result. By far the absolute worst Zone in the game is Sky High Zone; at first, it’s a pretty typical sky-based level but, once you get past the collapsing platforms, sneaky spike pits, and figure out which clouds can be run along or bounced off, you’re met with the worst gimmick in this (or any) videogame: the goddamn hang glider! Controlling this damn thing is the hardest thing ever as you must have a lot of speed built up to stay airborne, tap left on the D-Pad in just the right way to gain height, and will fall to the ground (and usually your death) if you press the jump button, hit the ceiling, or hit a wall. All they had to do was have it so that you tapped up to stay afloat but, as it is, the controls are extremely counterintuitive and I have no doubt that many players’ experiences of the 8-bit Sonic 2 ended the moment they were forced to use this damn thing.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor in terms of presentation; apart from the aforementioned differences in screen size, there’s next to no discernible difference between the sprites and Zones of the Master System and Game Gear versions. Sonic’s sprite is thus bigger, more colourful, and much more cartoony; he has a whole new idle pose where he shrugs his shoulders with indifference when left idle and a whole bunch of new animations thanks to the game’s new gimmicks. Sadly, the Badniks don’t really get the same upgrade; you’ll encounter the same handful of enemies in every Zone and most of them are just recycled versions of Motobugs, Crabcrawlers, and Newtrons, with none of them really standing out.

Zones are bigger and more varied but have very sparse backgrounds.

The game’s Zones are quite the mixed bag; on the one hand, I absolutely love how they’re completely different from the 16-bit version and they’re definitely very unique, with some big and detailed foreground elements. On the other hand, the backgrounds are actually less detailed than before, with only Gimmick Mountain Zone really impressing me with its background elements. While Green Hills Zone is somewhat derivative, it distinguishes itself from its predecessor by having more slopes and (unfair) spike pits; Aqua Lake Zone might be similar to Aquatic Ruins Zone and Labyrinth Zone but stands out by allowing you to take the upper path across the water or using the new bubble mechanic; and it was quite the bold strategy to start the game with the dank and dreary Underground Zone but the use of mine carts and lava helps to make it a fun and simple enough opening stage.

Jaunty music, odd-ball Zones, and some fun little cutscenes add to the game’s flavour.

Perhaps the most bonkers Zone is Crystal Egg, which is populated by flying fish Badniks, cacti plants, falling crystal blocks, and a maze of translucent scenery that is a far cry from the mechanical hellscapes of most final Zones. Indeed, Scrambled Egg Zone (which bares more than a few similarities to Hidden Palace Zone from later Sonic titles) arguably would have been a better choice for the final stage, especially as the final boss is fought in an arena that’s more like Scrambled Egg Zone than Crystal Egg Zone. In addition to featuring a short opening cutscene, more detailed title cards (which replace the map of the last game and, oddly, feature Tails accompanying Sonic), and the traditional ending cutscene (including a cute little sprite of Tails), the game’s music is also quite a step up. Still featuring jaunty, catchy chip tunes, Sonic 2’s music is much longer and more layered than in its predecessor and more than makes up for the game’s less impressive sound effects (though the “SE-GA!!” chant at the beginning was a welcome and unexpected addition).

Enemies and Bosses:
As I alluded to above, the 8-bit Sonic 2 kind of drops the ball when it comes to its Badniks; once again, the only time you’ll see Sonic’s woodland friends dancing about is when you free them from the Dr. Eggman-branded flying saucer at the end of Act 3 and you’ll encounter the same handful of baddies in every Zone. There’s only really one new one (the hovering turtles, or “Game-game”, which are a constant pain in the ass) but some returning Badniks have been given an upgrade; Bomb, for example, spews pellets when it explodes and Buton appears as a more fearsome version of Ball Hog but lacks the former’s bomb-throwing ability.

Dodge Dr. Eggman’s bombs to destroy the Antlion and watch for the Goose’s little minions!

Rather than taking on Dr. Eggman in Act 3 of every Zone, you’ll instead have to battle the mad scientist’s six “Master Robots”, which each one appearing as a large, mechanical creature. As before, you’ll have to navigate through a few obstacles to even reach the boss without the aid of any Rings, which can be a pretty tall order when spikes and hazards are much more prominent this time around. Indeed, Dr. Eggman even inexplicably saves you from an unavoidable dip in lava to force you into battling the Antlion Mecha, a mechanical beetle that waits for you at the bottom of a steep slope. To defeat the Antlion Mecha, you have to jump over or avoid the bombs that bounce in from the left side of the screen so that they damage the boss instead of you. This is much easier said than done thanks to the slippery slope and the Game Gear’s reduced screen size; also, Dr. Eggman will rush in to try and ram you near the end so be sure to hop over him. The Goose Mecha requires a lot less strategy; it drops little Mecha Hiyoko around the clouds that you must take out and then bobs around the arena shooting projectiles at you. Simply ram it in the head and avoid getting hit and it’ll go down pretty easily.

Unlike the last game, many Master Robots require a bit more strategy than just head-on attacks.

Strategy rears its head again when you face the Mecha Sea Lion; if you try and attack as you would a normal Badnik, the Mecha Sea Lion simply balances Sonic on its nose and tosses him around. You can only damage it when its blowing up a red balloon; attack this before it can launch it at you and you’ll land a hit but, otherwise, this is a pretty simply battle. Similarly, the hardest thing about tackling the Pig-Boar Mecha is the spikes on its back and the rocks it causes to fall from the sky. Jump over it when it charges and it’ll stun itself, leaving it vulnerable for a quick hit before charging at you again, kind of like a mixture of the Emerald Hill Zone and Mystic Cave Zone bosses. The Pig Mecha can also be quite a pain; not only is it arguably the hardest boss to even reach thanks to you needing to spring your way over vast spike pits but it also can only be damaged when not curled up into a ball and the window of opportunity to strike is quite small. The Pig Mecha will roll, jump, or fly across the arena and screen trying to hit you and then uncurl to taunt you, making it functionally very similar to the fight against Mecha Sonic in the 16-bit game.

Defeat Silver Sonic without the Chaos Emeralds and you’ll never see the good ending.

Speaking of Sonic’s robotic doppelgänger, you’ll encounter Silver Sonic at the end of Scrambled Egg Zone. Despite its sleeker, more futuristic appearance, though, Silver Sonic is far easier to take on; it tries to slap you with an extending arm and will repel your Spin Attack with one of its own but is otherwise very easy to attack when it’s standing out in the open or trying to charge at you with its rocket boots. If you didn’t find the five Chaos Emeralds before this boss, your game will end here but, if you did, Silver Sonic relinquishes the sixth and final Emerald and you get to play Crystal Egg Zone. This culminates in a final battle against Dr. Eggman; this time, he summons spinning energy balls, arena-filling electrical storms, and little thunderbolts to try and kill you but, while this fight is certainly more harrowing than in the last game, it’s actually more about patience and timing. Sonic must hop into the tubes and circle the arena over and over, popping out to land a hit only when the timing is right and the hazards are gone, which can take some time and be a bit frustrating. Once you defeat Dr. Eggman, he’ll flee once more but, rather than delivering a final blow, Sonic is content to be reunited with Tails.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Oddly, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 actually includes less power-ups than its predecessor. You can still find monitors in Zones that will grant you an extra ten Rings or an extra life, but there are no longer shield monitors and I don’t recall seeing any speed-up shoes, either. The invincibility is still present, though, and not only appears far more often but is actually required to reach the Goal Post in some Zones as it’s the only way of safely crossing the spike pits.

Additional Features:
Like the previous game, playing the 8-bit Sonic 2 on the 3DS is highly recommended; the game is much tougher than its predecessor so the save states are massively helpful when trying to hunt down the six Chaos Emeralds. With no Special Stages to play, you once again have to hunt for the gems in Zones, with all of them being found in Act 2 this time around. However, these are much harder to get to than before, requiring you to stay on higher paths when it’s almost impossible to do so, jump through hidden walls that don’t look any different to other parts of the environment, and making pixel-perfect bounces on springs. They’re also far more important than in many Sonic titles as, if you don’t have all five by the time you fight Silver Sonic, you can’t play the final Zone or rescue Tails; indeed, the game’s bad ending heavily implies that Tails dies as a result of your inadequacies! Sadly, you’ll probably see this ending a lot without a guide; the Master System version has a convoluted level select code that used to help me out a lot as a kid but legitimately beating this game with the good ending takes a great deal of skill…and it’s not like you get to play as Tails for your efforts, or at all for that matter.

The Summary:
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 contains many quality of life improvements over the original; the game is bigger, with more colourful and detailed sprites, has a more developed soundtrack, more Zones, and runs a lot fast and smoother (especially when underwater). There’s loads of fun new gimmicks introduced here that help the game stand out from its 16-bit counterpart; the two are like night and day, with each Act being a little different from the last and new mechanics at your disposal so that it isn’t just more of the same Sonic action. However, at the same time, there’s noticeably less; no Special Stages, no real incentive to finish Zones with Rings, less power-ups, and the noticeable absence of Sonic’s two-tailed companion. Not only that but the game is far more difficult, almost unreasonably so, and made even trickier by the Game Gear’s lower screen resolution. Tracking down the Chaos Emeralds this time around was an absolute chore rather than being fun and making it so that you have to have them to even play the full game was a bit of a stretch. However, by far the worst thing is that damn hang glider; it basically derails the entire game as it’s almost impossible to control and, while you can finish Sky High Zone (and even acquire its Chaos Emerald) without using them, I can’t help but feel like this mechanic could have been better implemented. Overall, I’d say it’s definitely a worthwhile inclusion to your library but do yourself a favour and get it on a console like this that allows for save states as it makes the game far more enjoyable.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2? How do you think it compares to its predecessor and its Mega Drive counterpart? Which of its unique Zones is your favourite? Were you annoyed that Tails was reduced to a hostage rather than being a playable character? Did you ever manage to get the hang of the hang glider and find all the Chaos Emeralds? How are you celebrating “Sonic 2sday” this year? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic 2, and Sonic in general, drop a comment below.

Game Corner [Bite-Size]: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (Nintendo 3DS)

Released: 7 March 2012
Originally Released: 4 December October 1997
Developer: Konami
Original Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment
Also Available For: Game Boy

A Brief Background:
In the hierarchy of videogame characters, you would be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Goemon, the spiky-haired protagonist of Konami’s Ganbare Goemon series of adventure games. Loosely based on the legendary Robin Hood figure of Ishikawa Goemon, Goemon was first introduced to gamers back in 1986 as “Mr. Goemon” and was best known outside of Japan for his critically acclaimed Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) title, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (Konami, 1991). While the world was waiting with baited breath for the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo EAD, 1998), 3D adventure fans were treated to Goemon’s bizarre Nintendo 64 jaunt, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka, 1997), my first exposure to the character and the franchise and still one of my favourite N64 games of all time. Mystical Ninja was accompanied by this release for the original Game Boy, a divisive adventure title that was criticised for its high difficulty and for being a poor knock-off of The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo R&D4, 1986). Regardless, Mystical Ninja made its was to the 3DS Virtual Console in 2012 and, based on my enjoyment with the N64 title and desire to play something akin to the SNES game, I snapped it up before the service was shut down.

First Impressions:
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon is a top-down action/adventure game far more in the style of The Legend of Zelda than its sidescrolling SNES predecessor and third-person N64 jaunt. The game’s story is split into chapters, with story text, dialogue boxes, and map screens depicting the efforts of Goemon, Ebisumaru, and Sasuke to rescue their friend Yae from the malevolent Black Ship Gang. Before each chapter, you can pick from one of the three protagonists, who all essentially control the same way and have the same abilities; each character has a weapon to attack with by pressing B and can jump by pressing A, though each has slightly different attributes. Goemon is an all-rounder, for example, while Ebisumaru’s jump isn’t quite as good as Sasuke’s. Like Link, you character will fire a projectile from their weapon when at full health, though you still have access to a projectile in the form of a limited supply of shurikens, which you can switch to by pressing ‘Select’ and each character has a different range to their shot. The pause screen brings up a rudimentary grid-like map that gives you some idea of where you are, where you’ve been, and where you need to go, though the game is pretty linear and it’s not especially difficult to find your way around. Each chapter starts you out in a town of some sort, one either ruined by enemies or that’s a port for the Black Ship Gang, and you can explore, chat to non-playable characters (NPCs) for some vague hints and lore, and visit shops and inns to replenish your health and ammo. This is the only way to refill your strength gauge outside of collecting Crystal of Life items from chests, which add an extra hit point to your bar and, as you only get one life and the game’s passwords make you start from the beginning of the chapter, this can make for an incredibly difficult gameplay experience.

Limited graphics and gameplay options make this a disappointing Game Boy title.

You’ll wander through the town, taking out enemies (who don’t drop anything useful and respawn when you return, making backtracking a chore), and finding stairs down to underground passages, ant hills, castles, and through the Black Ship Gang’s ship. Exploration generally amounts to finding chests that contain a life or weapon power-up, extra shurikens, and coins to spend, but you’ll occasionally find shops and inns in here too and you’ll pretty much always be tasked with finding an NPC with a story-specific item (bamboo, a bomb, the symbol of the Black Ship Gang) that you need to progress further.  Graphically, the game really isn’t anything to shout about; considering we were seven years into the Game Boy’s life span by this point and we’d seen an incredibly detailed and layered adventure game in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Nintendo EAD, 1993) about four years prior, it’s hard to not judge Mystical Ninja, which more resembles Super Mario Land (Nintendo R&D1, 1989) than Link’s Awakening. The sound is pretty good, but the sprites are small, lacking in detail, and the environments all become very samey very quickly. Add in the fact that some locations are veritable mazes and include hazards like pits, water, and lava that take a whole chunk off your health and send you back to the beginning and you have a game that just looks dated and lacks all of the visual charm I associate with the Mystical Ninja franchise. By taking advantage of the 3DS’s save state system, you don’t really need to explore all that much as you can just reload if you make a mistake, but that won’t help you when you come across the various mini games that accompany the game’s bosses!

My Progression:
Mystical Ninja’s enemies aren’t really all the difficult to get past; you’ve got samurais, ghosts, giant ants, bats, and pirates scattered throughout but also some trickier enemies, like teleporting ninjas, ink-spitting squids, and these weird…I dunno…golems? Walking tree-things? Most enemies can be defeated in one hit, but some take more, and it can be tricky lining up your shot or blow because of the game’s rigid grid system and the character’s weapons not having a wide arc like Link’s sword. The hardest thing about the enemies, though, is that they all respawn when you return to where they were meaning that it’s usually easier and faster to just jump around and avoid them, especially as you don’t get any health or coins or anything for beating them. Some areas include mini bosses, like a sumo, a flying queen ant, a hook-handed pirate captain, and a large octopus, but most of these are pretty easy to pummel into defeat from afar. When you explore Skeleton Island, defeating the club-wielding ogre-things opens up a new part of the area to explore and brings you one step closer to the final boss, but it’s actually highly unlikely you’ll even get past the first boss without using the password system. My playthrough was going pretty well; I was disappointed by the graphics, lack of power-ups, and the inability to switch characters on the fly, but the game wasn’t too much of a challenge to figure out. I beat the sumo, got the bamboo, and used it to cross the water to a castle, where I eventually reached this rocket boss…thing.

Sadly, while bosses are easy to beat, the mini games that accompany them are hard as balls!

It was a little sporadic but I managed to defeat it but Baron Skull, leader of the Black Ship Gang, challenges you to a 100-meter race afterwards that is, frankly, impossible. You need to tap A as fast as possible to beat him but, no matter how fast I was, I couldn’t even get close so, technically, my run ended there. I used the password to jump to the next chapter, though, to see what else was on offer; here, you battle this big stone boss in a cave that constantly throws boulders and its extending arms at you and, when you beat it, you have another impossible tapping game to complete, this time a tug of war! I couldn’t beat that either, so I jumped to chapter three; here, you need to answer five out of ten questions right in a timed quiz to board the Black Ship Gang’s ship, which isn’t too hard, and the big octopus has you quickly select which lantern doesn’t match to finish the chapter, so I was actually able to beat this one! Things properly broke down in chapter four, where you cross a bridge to another ship and are challenged to a number of mini games; the first isn’t too bad (especially with save states) and simply has you matching pairs of cards, but the second was, again, impossible as no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get all of the images to match the main picture. I skipped ahead to the final chapter, where you easily defeat Baron Skull’s ogres and rescue Yae, then hop over some lava and battle him to the finish in a first-person mech fight. This sees you summoning the giant robot Impact (though you only see him from inside his cockpit) and punching Baron Skull when he pops up, following the helpful arrows to prepare your attack. Unfortunately, you can’t block or fire projectiles and I couldn’t even see what or when Baron Skull was firing at me, and this is a multi-stage fight, with Baron Skull getting faster and harder to hit, so this was where I officially gave up.

To say I was disappointed by Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon would be a massive understatement. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting it to be anything like the Nintendo 64 game of the same name that’d so massively captured my attention and imagination, but something more akin to the SNES game or even more in line with Link’s Awakening would’ve been fine. I was expecting the game to be hard because it was a long and involved role-playing adventure game that had you going from town to town, exploring dungeons and castles, and acquiring new weapons and items…not because of nigh-impossible button mashing mini games with absolutely no margin for error! The game is stupidly simple 99% of the time, coming across as a kiddified version of the original Legend of Zelda and barely presenting much of a challenge as long as you remember where you’ve gone in the maze-like areas. The bosses are pretty simple to beat as well, but those mini games, while quirky and in keeping with the series’ bizarre sense of humour, are such a brick wall that I honestly have no idea how you’d get past even the first one! Add to that the dated the graphics, the lack of variety between the playable characters, and the disappointingly bland locations and you are basically left with a forgettable Game Boy experience that I can’t say I’ll be motivated to try and finish any time soon. But maybe you think I’m being too harsh? Maybe you’ve beaten this game without issue? If so, I’d love to hear about it, and your thoughts on the Ganbare Goemon series, down in the comments or on my social media.

Game Corner [DK Day]: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (Nintendo 3DS)

In 1981, Shigeru Miyamoto and his team at Nintendo R&D1 created Donkey Kong, an arcade title that was not only one of the earliest examples of the platform genre but also introduced gamers everywhere to two of Nintendo’s most recognisable characters: Mario and Donkey Kong. Mario, of course, shot to super stardom but today’s a day to celebrate everyone’s favourite King Kong knock-off and to say: Happy birthday, Donkey Kong!

Released: 24 May 2013
Originally Released: 21 November 2010
Developer: Monster Games
Original Developer: Retro Studios
Also Available For: Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, and Nvidia Shield (Original Version)

The Background:
After establishing a foothold in the United States with Donkey Kong (Nintendo R&D1, 1981), which was a financial and critical success, Nintendo quickly went on to capture the home console market with the Nintendo Entertainment System. While their moustachioed mascot, Super Mario, was at the forefront of this, Donkey Kong wasn’t completely forgotten as the character continued to be featured in sequels and spin-offs during the NES’s life. However, legendary British developers Rare breathed new life into the cantankerous ape with the Donkey Kong Country series (Rare, 1994 to 1996), a series of sidescrolling platformers released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) that expanded upon Donkey Kong’s cast of characters and pushed the SNES hardware to its limits with their revolutionary pre-rendered graphics. After years of being relegated to guest appearances and spin-offs, Donkey and Diddy Kong returned to prominence at the specific request of DK’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, with Retro Studios brought in to create a nostalgic throwback title for the Nintendo Wii. Donkey Kong Country Returns was met with generally favourable reviews and sold nearly five million copies by the end of March 2011. This, potentially, led to Nintendo commissioning a revamp of the title for their new 3DS console, which included additional game modes and levels alongside the 3D feature, and saw equally strong reviews and sales.

The Plot:
The evil Tiki Tak Tribe emerge from an erupting volcano and immediately set about hypnotising the inhabitants of Donkey Kong Island to steal Donkey Kong’s beloved bananas. Enraged at the loss of his coveted banana hoard, DK once again teams up with Diddy Kong to travel across the length and breadth of the island to retrieve his bananas and defeat the Tiki Tak Tribe’s leaders.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a 2.5D action/platformer in which players take control of the titular ape Donkey Kong and travel across nine worlds to collect his beloved bananas and defeat the Tiki Tak Tribe. As with all Nintendo 3DS titles, players have the option of adjusting the game’s 3D effects, which pop out at players during certain situations and provide a great deal of depth to the game’s vibrant stages but, also as with all 3DS games, I chose to keep the 3D option turned down because I find it distracting. Fans of the original Donkey Kong Country might be disappointed to discover that they can only play as Donkey Kong this time around; rather than using a tag team mechanic and switching between Donkey and Diddy Kong at any time to make use of their unique abilities, players are stuck as Donkey Kong and Diddy is relegated to merely a supporting role, buffing your health and forward roll and providing a very limited hover boost with his jetpack. The only way you can play as Diddy (who is apparently faster and can stun enemies with his Popcorn Gun) is if you happen to have a friend to play with in two player mode; otherwise, you’re stuck with Donkey Kong.

Pound, cling, and swing your way over endless bottomless pits and death traps.

Donkey Kong is a bit of a lumbering beast; as he moves, he gains momentum which allows him to go faster and jump higher (he also jumps higher the longer you press the A or B button) but he’s also quite large and cumbersome, which not only makes his hit box quite big but also means it can be pretty difficult to pull off the tight platforming and jumps the game requires. DK can attack enemies by rolling into a ball with L or R when running, pounding the ground or other objects when standing still with L or R, and grabbing and throwing barrels with Y or X. By pressing down and L or R, he’ll also blow out a puff of air which can be used to blow out fires, flaming enemies, or stir up parts of the environment to find secrets and you’ll also be asked to mash L and R at certain points in mini quick-time events to earn extra rewards. Your main aim in every stage is to travel from the left side of the screen to the right and reach the Slot Machine Barrel that awaits you at the end of each stage. This is easier said than done, however; Donkey Kong is tasked with pulling off some tricky jumps and platforming in order to clear each stage and you’ll have to search high and low, passing through hidden areas and smashing through blocks, to uncover every collectible, often at the risk (or cost) of a life. Each stage except for at least one contains a couple of checkpoints, where you’ll respawn after dying. If you die while partnered with Diddy, you’ll respawn without him; however, while you’ll also have to reacquire any KONG letters you collected before you died, your total banana and Banana Coin count carries over and both of these can also be collected again so you can stock up on each and replenish your lives a little faster.

Once again, the Kongs blast across stages using barrels and runaway mine carts.

You’ll definitely need to take advantage of this as the game is very demanding and incredibly frustrating at times, requiring you to bounce off enemies, swing from vines, and cling to ceilings, walls, and rotating platforms in order to progress. Two of Donkey Kong Country’s principal gameplay mechanics also make a return here: Barrel blasting and mine carts. You’ll find two types of barrel cannons in the game, one which launches you when you choose and one which launches you automatically. While barrels often blast you into the background and towards secret areas, they’re just as likely to be moving, requiring you to time your shot to reach other stationary or moving barrels, which becomes harder and harder as you’re faced with collapsing platforms, pillars, and other obstacles that will cause instant death. The mine carts are even worse, though; these will race ahead uncontrollably and unceasingly, requiring split second jumps on your behalf to reach collectibles, clear gaps and obstacles, or reach vines and grassy verges. These sections become incredibly frustrating and unfair when you’re required to jump at precisely the right moment with the exact amount of control and timing to avoid instant death spikes, duck under low ceilings, or hop over enemies; hit anything in these stages and it’s instant death, regardless of how much health you have, which I find to be incredibly unreasonable considering Diddy can boost your maximum health up six hearts.

The Rocket Barrel is just one of the many clunky mechanics you’ll struggle with in the game.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’re also required to jump on to a Rocket Barrel for similarly frustrating and difficult chase sequences that see you flying horizontally (and, eventually, vertically) through a stage while stalactites and rocks fall from above, obstacles rise from below, and enemies and projectiles fly at you. While you have more control over the Rocket Barrel compared to the mine cart, it’s extremely imprecise and slippery; you must tap or hold A to maintain just the right amount of height, which can be extremely difficult when you’re forced to pass through narrow, often collapsing and winding, passageways, and it’s far too easy to lose a life because your hit box is so big and enemy explosions tend to linger onscreen just long enough to knock you from your precarious perch. It’s no wonder the game constantly encourages you to take a break with sections such as these, which only exacerbate the abundance of temporary platforms, bottomless pits, and instant death traps that fill every single stage of the game.

Graphics and Sound:
If there’s one area that Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D excels, its in its presentation; a far cry from the digitised graphics of its original incarnation, the game is a colourful, vivid 2.5D adventure that pops out even without the 3D effect. Donkey and Diddy Kong are pretty big and lively protagonists full of little quirks and characteristics, if a bit stilted at times, and their enemies are quite varied and zany. The game’s worlds and stages are pretty varied but nothing that hasn’t really been seen before in previous and similar titles: you’ll swing through a jungle, blast across a beach, smash your way through some ancient ruins, race through a crumbling cave, clamber through a forest, avoid the murky mud of the bone yard that is the cliff, barrel through a factory, and dodge rising lava inside of an active volcano.

Very occasionally, gameplay and stages are varied by unique lighting and effects,

The game is pretty good, whoever, at mixing and matching gameplay mechanics from each world into another; so, you might have to dodge past collapsing pillars in the jungle but you’ll also find collapsible hazards in the cliff stage. Similarly, mine carts and Rocket Barrels appear invariably throughout each world and you’ll be asked to swing from vines and cling to grassy verges across the entire game. While each world has a unique theme and varies up the gameplay quite a bit, the emphasis is always on platforming and various methods of jumping and traversing the environment. This means that you won’t find any underwater stages in Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, which would be a good thing but it results in water being an instant death hazard and replaces such mechanics with tiny, crumbling platforms, chase sequences, high speed jaunts on runaway mine carts or rocket-powered barrels, and precarious jumps over bottomless pits, beds of spikes, or bubbling lava as you hop from one tiny platform to another or ride a slowly deteriorating egg shell across a dangerous landscape. Other times, you’ll rush down water slides or have to outrun a giant Squeekly or stages are rendered entirely in silhouette or filled with a thick fog that limits your field of view and helps to mix up the presentation, though these instances were few and far between in hindsight.

The cinematics hold up really well but, for the most part, cutscenes use the in-game engine.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D tells its incredibly simple story through the employment of pantomime-like cutscenes that are beautifully brought to life through some sadly underused high quality cinematics. When entering a stage or approaching a boss, the in-game graphics take over to show the Kongs encountering the next leader of the Tiki Tak Tribe and each of these can be skipped at any time, which is useful. When you visit Cranky Kong’s shop, the wizened Kong will offer tips and instructions on his wares through the use of speech bubbles and the game also features numerous remixes of classic Donkey Kong Country tunes, such as “DK Island Swing”, which help lend a sense of legitimacy to the title as a continuation of those 16-bit games.

Enemies and Bosses:
Being that the Kongs are going up against an entirely new antagonist force this time around, they are fittingly faced with a slew of new enemies that replace the Kremlings of the classic games with such bizarre foes as sentient bongo-bongo drums that also resemble owls or are engulfed in flames that they toss your way. You’ll also have to hop or, or roll into, crab-like Snaps and Pinchly, Frogoons, bat-like Squeeklys, the parrot-like Awk and Rawk, and the voracious Toothberrys. When in the mines, you’ll have to contend with a variety of moles (who race at you in mine carts of their own or toss bombs your way), jump over massive sharks that leap out of the water in the ruins, avoid being splattered by indestructible octopus tentacles, and bop on the heads of a number of skeletal or wacky robotic enemies when exploring the quagmire of the cliff stage or the mechanical mayhem of the factory, respectively.

Patience is the key to defeating Mugly and the Scurvy Crew.

Of course, eight worlds means eight different bosses to face; before you tackle each one, you’ll get to smash open a DK Barrel and I highly recommend that you take advantage of this as Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D’s boss battles can be quite laborious. The first boss you face, Mugly, is a giant toad-like creature that likes to charge or jump at you from one side of the arena to the other, producing shockwaves in the process. He also protects himself from attack with a row of spikes on his back, meaning your window of opportunity to jump on his back is limited to when the spikes are retracted or the times when he knocks him self silly. The second boss, the Scurvy Crew, is comprised of three crabs that you must jump on when their claws are down or roll into when they’re up. Though they also form a three-tiered totem, you’ll continue using this tactic but they move much faster as the fight progresses and it just seems never-ending at times, which can lead to you making stupid mistakes.

Stu is a walk in the park compared to getting to, and fighting, Mole Miner Max.

To clear the ruins stage, you’ll have to battle Stu (no relation…), a massive, cracked out bird that protects itself with a cauldron. Stu alternates between trying to dive bomb you and tossing bombs into the arena, which you must grab and throw back at him while watching out for the shockwaves caused when he drops a big missile into the arena and the fire that spreads from his incendiary bombs. The big boss of the cave stage is Mole Miner Max but, to reach him, you must first survive his gruelling mole train, jumping over or ducking under axe projectiles (without moving forward or backwards or else you’ll die because of the train’s momentum and physics), and tossing bombs away before they can hurt you. Max himself isn’t too difficult (it’s reaching him that’s the tricky part!) as you can pre-empt where he will appear to bop him on the head, just be sure to avoid standing on the mine carts when they sparkle or else you’ll be thrown to your death!

Bosses will test your wits, reaction times, and require both patience and strategy to defeat.

One of the more frustrating boss battles is against the Mangoruby; this boss requires a far less direct approach as you must cling to the circular platforms dotted around the arena and pound the five triangular switches on each one to get past the Mangoruby’s electrical field. You must then frantically chase it down (preferably without falling to your death) and jump on its back (not its horned head) before the switches reactivate and while avoiding the bombs it eventually drops into the arena. Afterwards, you’ll battle Thugly, who is very similar to Mugly and charges and jumps at you. This time, you need to jump over him at the last possible second and then quickly roll under his jump attack, avoiding the shockwaves he produces upon landing while also dodging rocks that rain down from above, his flame breath, and his fireball projectiles. Thugly gets faster and more aggressive as the battle progresses down the arena and can only be damaged when his protective plates slide back (but, again, watch out as these also glow red hot!)

Before you can even reach the final bosses, you’ll endure a tough Rocjet Barrel section.

Before you can even reach the Stompybot 3000 (and the final boss), you first have to beat a Rocket Barrel section, which requires split second timing on your behalf to avoid the obstacles and moving hazards that appear just off-screen for maximum annoyance. The Stompybot 3000 is another of the game’s more frustrating bosses because of how random it is; you need to stay away from it as it clomps around the arena and roll under it when it leaps into the air (but only when the little flap opens up, otherwise you’ll get hurt), then cling to the bottom of it to deal some damage. Once its legs are broken off, it’ll start dropping BuckBots into the arena that you can attack to try and get some health back. You’ll have to grab on to the green chains to deal further damage to the machine, though, which will also spit flames into the arena if you take too long and try to crush you if you hold on for too long.

The game’s final boss, Tiki Tong, is the most challenging boss battle of the entire game.

Easily the toughest boss of the game, though, is the final boss, Tiki Tong; as mentioned, you must endure a gruelling Rocket Barrel section to even reach this boss, which will most likely leave you with few lives or exhaust your inventory so you lose the much needed edge of Cranky’s items in the battle. Additionally, if you die while fighting Tiki Tong, you respawn right before the final fight but without Diddy, making it even tougher! Tiki Tong first tries to slap and crush you with its hands, which must be ducked under, rolled away from, or jumped over (when they’re at the far side of the arena) to avoid damage. When you dodge its downward slam, quickly jump on the jewel to damage and, eventually, destroy each hand (grabbing any wayward hearts you see in the process) and Tiki Tong will start attacking with its big, stupid head by spitting out Flaming Tiki Buzzes that will home in on you and basically blanket the arena, giving you the smallest window to avoid being hurt (the rare hearts that appear during this time are also on fire and you have very little time to wait or blow them out). Tiki Tong also crashes to the ground, producing a shockwave that you must jump over in a desperate attempt to bop the big red button on its head; miss-time your jump, though, and you’ll simply bounce harmlessly off the button for maximum frustration and the boss also increases in speed and aggressiveness as the fight drags on, giving you less and less time to hit that weak spot and crush it with the Moon when you finally do defeat it.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore each of the game’s stages, you’ll find a multitude of collectibles that will aid your quest: hearts will restore one unit of your health, red balloons will award you with an extra life, and DK Barrels will see Diddy join your side. Of course, you’ll also find a number of bananas in each stage; collect one hundred of these and you’ll also be awarded with an extra life but you can also find Banana Coins to spend in Cranky Kong’s shop, Puzzle Pieces to unlock artwork in the game’s Gallery, and KONG letters that must be collected in every stage to unlock a hidden temple for each of the game’s worlds. It pays to explore and experiment with your surrounds, too, as you can find more bananas and Banana Coins by blowing flowers or windmills or by smashing blocks and chests. KONG letters, deposits of bananas and Banana Coins, and Puzzle Pieces can often be found hidden behind parts of the environment, too, as can hidden bonus stages that see you hopping across moving platforms or using barrels to collect everything in the enclosed arena within a time limit to earn extra lives and Puzzle Pieces.

Use Cranky’s items or hop on Rambi to help you out, or just sit back and activate Super Kong.

The Banana Coins you find can be spent in Cranky’s Shop; the elderly Kong has a range of items for sale that can be added to your inventory before the start of each stage. You can equip up to three different items at a time (though some are locked out of certain stages) and these can be incredibly useful, especially in the game’s more frustrating sections. You can purchase an extra heart piece, make yourself temporarily invincible (which actually gives you three extra hit points), spawn in a DK Barrel, and/or protect your mine cart or Rocket Barrel from one hit. You can also purchase green balloons, which will save you when you fall down bottomless pits, hire out Squawks the Parrot to alert you to nearby secrets, or buy a Map Key to unlock an extra stage in each world that can provide a shortcut to the boss. Since the game lacks any underwater sections, the only one of DK’s animal friends to make a return is Rambi, who can charge through special blocks, beds of spikes, and through enemies without fear. You can mount and dismount Rambi at any time and even use Diddy’s jetpack boost to help you plough through stages but he does make the already finicky platforming sections even more troublesome. If you die repeatedly in a stage, you’ll also be given the option (from your last checkpoint), to activate “Super Kong”; in this mode, a white version of Donkey and Diddy Kong will play through the stage or tackle the boss on your behalf. While this allows you to clear any areas that are causing you to rage quit and progress to new stages and worlds, you won’t get to keep any of the collectibles Super Kong picks up and the level won’t appear as completed on the main map screen so you’ll always know that the game bested you.

Additional Features:
Being an expanded version of Donkey Kong County Returns, Donkey Kong County Returns 3D contains everything that was available in the original Wii game plus a few extras. You’re given three save slots to play around with and are asked to pick between two game modes right from the start: “Original”, which plays exactly the same as the Wii version, and “New”, which grants players an additional heart, reduces the cost of items in Cranky’s shop, and allows you to purchase (for the low, low price of fifty Banana Coins each) eight Rare Orbs to enter the Golden Temple rather than forcing you to collect every KONG letter to access this stage. The Golden Temple transports players to the new world, Cloud, where you can take on eight additional stages, each one modelled after the game’s existing levels, before tackling the ninth and final stage, which is, without question, the game’s toughest and most frustrating challenge yet.

Take on the Golden Temple and try to not rage quit when playing the final level.

This stage takes place high in the clouds and, thus, entirely over a bottomless pit and sees you hopping from precarious fruit-based platforms without the aid of any checkpoints. Green balloons and Diddy Kong are a must to clear this stage, which had me tearing my hair out on more than one occasion thanks to DK’s lumbering jump, awkward controls, and the minuscule or slippery platforms that comprise the arena. Clear this final stage, though, and you’ll unlock the delights of the game’s Mirror Mode. However, only a madman would put themselves through the demanding torture of tackling every single stage all over again…but in reverse and with only one heart and no help from Diddy or Cranky’s items. You can also tackle a time attack after clearing each stage and are pushed to find every single KONG letter and Puzzle Piece to not only unlock all the artwork in the Gallery but also achieve 200% completion (because, yes, you need to find everything in Mirror Mode, too) but, if you can do all that, then you’re much more skilled and patient than I am as I tapped out after clearing the Cloud world.

The Summary:
I had high hopes for Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D; being a SEGA kid growing up, I’ve only had partial exposure to a lot of Nintendo’s best titles from the 8- and 16-bit era but I’ve always had a fondness for Donkey Kong Country and tried on numerous occasions to give at least the first game a full playthrough. There’s no denying that Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D looks and sounds fantastic; the 3D is implemented quite well and the game is very vibrant and full of quirky, cartoony appeal that is decidedly at odds with the game’s absolutely horrendous difficulty curve. Donkey Kong is just so slow, clunky, and clumsy; when forced to outrun instant death traps or jump to small, temporary platforms, he struggles to get his big ass in gear and you’ll be fighting with the game’s awkward, slippery controls and frame-perfect demands as often as the split second timing and trial and error of the gameplay. Not being able to freely switch to Diddy was a massive disappointment as it takes away a lot of the appeal of the game for us single players and, ultimately, despite some fun visuals and moments sprinkled throughout, I found the game to be more of a chore to get through than anything that simply required me to throw myself at its toughest sections over and over to barely squeeze past rather than actually enjoying the whole experience.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D? If you played the original, how do you think this enhanced/portable version holds up? Did you also struggle with the game’s finicky controls and demanding difficulty or were you able to overcome the challenge without much trouble? Were you disappointed that the tag team mechanic and other recognisable elements of Donkey Kong Country were dropped? Which of the Donkey Kong Country games is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating Donkey Kong’s anniversary this year? Whatever your thoughts on Donkey Kong, sign up to leave them below or share them on my social media.

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic the Hedgehog (2013; Nintendo 3DS)

Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I will be dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


Released: 13 June 2013
Originally Released: 25 October 1991
Developer: SEGA
Original Developer: Ancient
Also Available For: GameCube, Game Gear, Master System, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

The Background:
I did a deep dive into Sonic’s complex and deliberate history in my review of his incredibly popular debut title for the Mega Drive; however, in October of the same year of Sonic’s 16-bit debut, SEGA also released an 8-bit version of the influential Mario-beater. The Master System version of Sonic was my introduction to the character as it came built-into my Master System II console; originally developed by Ancient specifically for the Game Gear, the Yuzo Koshiiro-lead team were also commissioned to make a version for its bigger brother. Since it was impossible to port the 16-bit game, Ancient started from scratch to craft a similar but fundamentally altered version of its 16-bit counterpart. Reviews were positive and, when the game was subsequently re-released onto the 3DS Virtual Console, it was again positively received and has been considered one of the best titles on SEGA’s 8-bit systems.

The Plot:
South Island is under siege! The maniacal Doctor Eggman (widely known as “Robotnik” during this time) has captured the island’s animals and polluted the landscape in his search for the six legendary Chaos Emeralds and only one super-fast, super-cool hedgehog can stop him!

Just like the 16-bit version, Sonic the Hedgehog is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which players are placed into the red-and-white trainers of the titular blue hedgehog. Sonic is tasked with racing and navigating through six stages (known as “Zones”), with three levels (called “Acts”) each and, in each Zone’s third Act, Sonic will encounter Dr. Eggman and have to battle him to free a bunch of woodland critters from captivity.

The game’s much more focused on platforming rather than speed and runs noticeably slower at times.

Sonic’s repertoire is exactly the same as in the game’s 16-bit cousin; moving Sonic in a direction for long enough will see him break from a walk, to a trot, to a super-fast run that turns his legs into a blur of motion. By pressing any button, Sonic will jump and become a ball of whirling blue spikes; this “Super Sonic Spin Attack” is your sole form of attack and can also be performed by pressing down on the directional-pad (D-Pad) while running to smash into Badniks. Pressing up and down on the D-Pad while standing still will allow you to vertically scroll the screen and pressing down when on a steep slope and jumping at the very end will see Sonic fly through the air and travel far across the Act at times. Otherwise, that’s it; there’s no Spin Dash or anything like that. Consequently, the game remains a much slower experience than the advertising would have you believe. Thanks to the limitations of the 8-bit hardware, this version of Sonic is missing the iconic loop-de-loops that helped Sonic gain speed in the 16-bit version and replaces them (here and there) with the aforementioned ramps and a far more vertically-orientated approach. This means that the game is, at its core, a pure platformer and you’ll be jumping over (many) spiked and bottomless pits, hopping to platforms (moving, stationary, and temporary), and making your way up and across to reach the Goal Sign.

You might not be able to collect lost Rings but extra lives are easy to find and stock up on.

While Sonic can still collect Golden Rings to protect himself from harm and death, he is again hampered by the system’s limitations. When hit, Sonic will appear to lose only one Ring but will actually drop all of his Rings and cannot pick them up again, which can easily lead to you getting killed on the very next hit. There are additional limitations on the heads-up display (HUD): if you collect over ninety-nine Rings, you’ll earn an extra life but also reset the Ring counter. Your life display is also capped at nine during gameplay but you can collect extra lives and they do show up on the score tally screen. Speaking of which, yes, you do accumulate points by smashing Badniks and finishing Acts quickly but you only see this score at the end of an Act. You are also still racing against a time limit but the game’s Acts are, for the most part, much shorter than in the 16-bit version so it’s not really much of a factor. Additionally, rather than including Signposts as checkpoints, 8-bit Sonic uses Arrow Monitors, which are worth hunting down if things are getting tough and, even better, your shield will carry across between Acts this time around.

In addition to three new Zones, the game also has its own gimmicks to keep you on your toes.

As far as gameplay goes, though, 8-bit Sonic certainly mixes things up in many ways that separate it from 16-bit Sonic. Acts have different mechanics in them, such as warning signs before death pits, weight-based springboards, rapids, rolling logs to run on, and teleporters. It also includes three game-exclusive Zones: Bridge, Jungle, and Sky Base. Bridge focuses on horizontal platforming across an instant-death body of water and has you running across collapsing bridges while Jungle is focused more on vertical platforming. Both Zones include an autoscrolling section in Act 2, with Bridge Zone forcing you to the right and Jungle Zone forcing you up, which can be a pain as once the screen scrolls up to meet you, falling down will result in instant death. You once again have to find your way through Labyrinth Zone, now much more of a chore to play as it’s not only a fittingly maze-like Zone but the game noticeably slows right down whenever Sonic is in water or too much is happening onscreen. Scrap Brain, while similar to the 16-bit game, is also made noticeably different by the presence of a confusing teleporter loop in the second Act that sees you hitting switches to open certain doors, dodging numerous hazards, and going through the right tunnels and teleporters to reach the end. By the time you reach the game’s final Zone, Sky Base, the difficulty noticeably ramps up a bit; Act 1 is alive with hazards thanks to an impressive thunderstorm raging in the background and sending electrical currents running across the screen and the presence of numerous cannons. Act 2 takes place up in the sky with you suspended over a perpetual death pit and forcing you to hop across propeller platforms and dodge even bigger cannons all without the benefit of your precious Rings.

Graphics and Sound:
Even now, Sonic the Hedgehog remains one of the most impressive titles on SEGA’s 8-bit systems. Since the 3DS version is a port of the Game Gear version, it’s not quite the same as I remember it; Sonic’s sprite is noticeably different compared to the Master System one and actually resembles Greg Martin’s artwork thanks to his frowning eye. When left idle, he still taps his foot impatiently and pulls off some amusing expressions when killed, skidding, or gobbling air bubbles in Labyrinth Zone, though obviously the game’s zones aren’t going to be as vibrant and detailed as in the 16-bit version. Indeed, you’ll notice right away that the backgrounds are quite sparse and lack the same depth and level of detail as on the Mega Drive but there’s still quite a lot going on in each Zone; flowers blossom and dance in Green Hill Zone, water rushes by beneath Bridge Zone, and waterfalls and vines are all over the place in Jungle Zone.

Zones are certainly shorter and more sparse but the game is surprisingly colourful and lively.

Labyrinth Zone also still has a lot of detail on the foreground elements and you still need to swallow air bubbles to breathe (though the iconic drowning music has been replaced by a simple ticking countdown); while Scrap Brain Zone remains a mechanical Hell, Sky Base is probably the most visually impressive Zone in the game thanks to its dark, foreboding first Act and the impressive scale of the second Act. One of the best additions to the game is the presence of a map before each Act; this shows your progression through South Island, displays the name of the Zone you’re about to play, and even shows Dr. Eggman hovering in to attack you, the level of pollution in the air, and Dr. Eggman’s Sky Base looming overhead. The game even has a much more elaborate introduction before the title screen and the music is even more impressive; again, largely different from the 16-bit version with the exception of the opening jingle and Green Hill Zone, the game is full of jaunty, catchy little chip tunes, with Bridge Zone, the game’s incredible Scrap Brain Zone track, and Sky Base Zone’s tracks being notable standouts for me. When you finish the game, you’ll also be treated to a large, partially-animated sprite of Sonic with a microphone while one of my favourite ending medleys plays over the credits.

Enemies and Bosses:
Even though 8-bit Sonic includes some new Zones, the Badniks remain exactly the same as in the 16-bit version; you’ll still bop on Motobugs, get blasted at by Buzz Bombers, surprised by Newtrons, and nipped at by Chompers. Some Badniks, like Bat Brain and Roller, are missing, however, and you won’t be seeing any fluffy little creatures hopping to freedom when you smash the ‘bots with your Spin Attack. Your main hazards will be the high abundance of spike pits, spike traps, and bottomless pits; spears will also try to skewer you in Labyrinth Zone, flame jets and electrical hazards try to fry you in Scrap Brain Zone, and platforms will constantly collapse beneath your feet.

Dr. Eggman attacks from overheard or underneath in his early appearances but is easy to send packing.

As in the 16-bit version, Sonic will battle Dr. Eggman in Act 3 of each Zone. Unlike in that game, Act 3 contains no Rings, some platforming hazards to navigate through, and a single extra life monitor hidden within it to help you out. Every boss in the game is also completely different from those seen in the Mega Drive version; in Green Hill Zone, Dr. Eggman simply flies overhead a few times (accompanied by a jaunty little boss theme), lowers slowly to the ground, and tries to ram into you but, thanks to the smaller screen size of the Game Gear, it’s pathetically easy to do him in as he flies overheard on the first pass. In Bridge Zone, Dr. Eggman switches to a submersible craft and pops up randomly between bridges to fire three shots at you; this actually differs from the Master System version, which sees you battling Dr. Eggman between two grassy platforms, and can be difficult as it’s very easy to fall through Dr. Eggman on his invincibility frames and lose a life. In Jungle Zone, Dr. Eggman again hovers overheard but this time you’re limited to a curved vine platform and he drops a rolling bomb at you but, just like in Green Hill Zone, it’s way too easy to just mess him up on his first pass.

While he flees from you in Scrap Brain, Dr. Eggman puts up a decent fight in Labyrinth and Sky Base Zone.

Things appear to get more troublesome in Labyrinth Zone; unlike in the 16-bit version, you actually do fight Dr. Eggman here but it’s underwater and in a small arena with a bottomless pit to worry about. While there’s helpfully (if strangely) no danger of you drowning in this battle, you do have to watch out for Dr. Eggman’s rockets and projectiles but, while it can be tricky to jump over the pit thanks to how slow the game runs underwater, this isn’t that much of a chore to get through. In Scrap Brain Zone, you won’t actually fight Dr. Eggman; instead, you have to solve a tricky puzzle and then chase him to his teleporter and you’ll go one-on-one with him in the next Zone in a battle far more grandiose than on the Mega Drive. In Sky Base Act 3, Dr. Eggman hides within a glass tube and hops on a switch, which sends jets of flame randomly up from the floor or a ball of death to fly at you. Thankfully, it’s pretty simple to hop over both of these and bash into him. After he flees, a short cutscene pays that shows Sonic delivering the final blow via teleporter, defeating Dr. Eggman at last.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Sonic the Hedgehog includes all of the same power-ups as its Mega Drive cousin. You’ll find a number of monitors scattered throughout each Zone that will award you with ten extra Rings, a protective shield, or mark your progress so you can respawn later in the Zone if you die. Interestingly, the game features far more extra life monitors than it does speed-up shoes or invincibility monitors; indeed, I only encountered maybe two of these in my playthrough, to the point where I thought they weren’t even in the game.

Additional Features:
The 3DS version of 8-bit Sonic is one of the best ways to play the game thanks to not only being a portable title like the original Game Gear version, but also the inclusion of save states. While you can only create one save slot, this does make it dramatically easier to keep track of your progress and help you hunt down the game’s six Chaos Emeralds.

Bounce around Special Stages all you want but you’ll need to hunt through Zones for Chaos Emeralds.

One of the things I always loved about 8-bit Sonic was its approach to Chaos Emeralds; if you finish an Act with fifty Rings or more, you’ll get to play a Special Stage. In this game, these are timed bonus stages full of bumpers and springs (basically functioning as the game’s version of Spring Yard Zone) and Rings. Here, you can bounce all over the place to stock up on lives or break Continue Monitors to gain an extra continue but you won’t find Chaos Emeralds in these stages. Instead, Chaos Emeralds are hidden within the game’s Zones. Finding them is sometimes pretty simple, such as just taking a certain path while underground in Green Hill or running on a log at the bottom of Jungle Zone, but can also be sneakily hidden behind death traps. To reach the Emerald in Bridge Zone, for example, you have to jump from a falling section of a bridge before you fall to your death and Scrap Brain’s Chaos Emerald is reached by falling down a specific pit that looks just like any other bottomless pit. Nabbing them all rewards you with a hefty score bonus and the game’s true ending, which sees South Island freed of Dr. Eggman’s influence.

The Summary:
Even though I grew up playing the Master System version of this game, which is graphically slightly superior, I still have an immense amount of nostalgia and fondness for the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog. The game is bright, fun, and endlessly charming and packs quite a lot in for an 8-bit title; one of the things I still really enjoy about it is that it’s not just a scaled down version of the 16-bit game. Instead, 8-bit Sonic features new Zones, new gimmicks, and changes up the way the game is played; having you hunt for Chaos Emeralds in the game’s Acts is a great way to tie into the game’s larger focus on platforming and exploration and I always kind of saw this and the 16-bit version as two parts of a greater whole that complimented each other beautifully. Colourful and featuring some extremely catchy tunes, 8-bit Sonic is both easier and slightly harder than its more popular counterpart; there are some glitches here and there (Sonic’s collision detection is a bit wonky and I found myself bounced into oblivion in the Special Stages more than once), there seems to be far more unfair death pits and traps, and the game runs much slower, especially when there’s a lot happening onscreen. Still, these issues are minor and, in many ways (again, most likely because of nostalgia) I actually prefer this game to the 16-bit version but, in my wholly biased opinion, it’s definitely at least on par with Sonic’s bigger, better Mega Drive outing.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think about Sonic’s 8-bit debut? How do you think it compares to the 16-bit version and Sonic’s other 8-bit outings? Did your Master System come with Sonic built-in or did you buy it separately? What did you think to the Chaos Emeralds being hidden in the game’s Zones rather than in Special Stages? Did you own the original Game Gear version and what did you think to this 3DS port? How are you celebrating Sonic’s birthday this year? Whatever you think, feel free to share your thoughts and memories regarding Sonic below or on my social media.

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice (Nintendo 3DS)

Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I will be dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


Released: 27 September 2016
Developer: Sanzaru Games

The Background:
As I mentioned in my review of Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (ibid, 2014), Sonic is no stranger to reinvention and adaptation; even before the release of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), Sonic’s appearance and backstory were notably different from the Japanese designs and long-term Sonic fans saw the character interpreted as a slapstick Freedom Fighter, a rock star prince, and an angst-ridden superhero across numerous cartoons and comic books, to say nothing of the anime-inspired makeover he received in Sonic Adventure (ibid, 1998). Yet one of the more controversial redesigns for the character (aside from the initial design for the live-action movie) came when SEGA commissioned the production of a computer-animated series, Sonic Boom (2014 to 2017). For me, these new designs actually made a lot of sense (aside from the sports tape) and I think SEGA should have started over with a complete franchise reboot with these designs. Unfortunately, concerns over this new direction and the negative reception of the Wii U spin-off title significantly soured the impact of this new series. Although not nearly as derided as its Wii U counterpart, Shattered Crystal still considered to be a disappointment so the announcement of a sequel came as something of a surprise for me. Even more surprising to many was the fact that the developers’ claims to have learned from their mistakes actually paid off, resulting in Fire & Ice receiving a far more positive reception from critics and fans alike.

The Plot:
After discovering an element known as “Ragnium”, Doctor Eggman harnesses its powers to create robots fast enough to outrun Sonic and his friends and pollute the environment to his liking. With the planet suffering from a series of earthquakes, and opposed by Eggman’s newest creation, D-Fekt, Sonic and his friends race to put an end to Eggman’s schemes using their newly-acquired powers of fire and ice.

Like its predecessor, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is a 2.5D action/adventure platformer that involves a fair amount of exploration and character switching. Interestingly, though, there is nowhere near as much of this as in the previous game; because the map (helpfully displayed on the lower screen) shows the entirety of every stage, exploration is easier than ever and, since Sonic Tokens are no longer a thing and the game simply unlocks automatically as you clear each stage, there’s far less emphasis on backtracking and replaying previous stages. You’ll have to do it if you’re going for 100% completion but, this time around, the rewards for this are tied to additional gameplay options rather than story progression so you’re free to blast through stages as just Sonic if you want.

All the characters return with a handful of new abilities and a new playable character in the form of Amy Rose.

Just like in the last game, you can only play as Sonic at the start but you’ll unlock the other playable characters (Miles “Tails” Prower, Sticks the Badger, Knuckles the Echidna, and Amy Rose) as you complete stages and advance through the story. Once again, you can switch between each character on the fly using either the directional pad or the touch screen, and all of their basic abilities carry over from the last game (they can all jump, use the Homing Attack, sprint along, and swing around using the “Enerbeam”). Their unique character abilities also remain intact but with a few added extras: when performing Knuckles’ dig move or Sticks’ boomerang throw, you no longer have to worry about a meter running down so you’re free to use them as much as you like and Tails’ Sea Fox sections have been moved to a dedicated spot on the overworld map.

Switch between fire and ice to create and destroy platforms and progress through stages.

Otherwise, things are very much the same but slightly tweaked: Sonic can still perform the Spin Dash and air boost and Tails can still hover along air currents but he now fires a reflecting laser rather than tossing bombs and Knuckles can also now perform a flying punch attack. The addition of Amy to the playable roster adds her patented Piko-Piko Hammer to your arsenal, which is primarily used to lower or move platforms and blocks with a tap of the X button. New to the game, though, are the random powers of fire and ice each character possesses; with a press of either L or R, you’ll switch between a fire and ice aura, each of which allows you to traverse stages in different ways. Switching to ice, for example, allows you to run across bodies of water by turning them into temporary ice blocks and using fire allows you to melt through ice; Tails’ laser can also be powered up with these elemental powers to reflect off surfaces and clear obstacles and, as the game progresses, you’ll be tasked with quickly switching between ice and fire to complete stages. As always, Golden Rings will protect you from damage and the continued absence of a traditional life system means that you’ll simply lose Rings if you fall down bottomless pits or enter water. As long as you passed by a checkpoint, you’ll respawn in the stage you were in if you fall or get hit without any Rings, once again meaning that the game is far easier than most traditional Sonic titles.

Challenge Rooms and Dragon Rings add a bit of variety to the stages and award you with collectibles.

Sadly, while much of the game is improved (or, at least, streamlined) over its predecessor, the controls are still a bit unintuitive (at least for me) since the developers made sure to use every single button available on the 3DS this time around. Thankfully, though, stages are no longer locked out by Sonic Tokens; instead, the overworld map (which is now much bigger than before and features more stages per island than the last game) opens up as you complete each stage. You can even fast travel to a specific stage and island from the main overworld screen, which is very helpful, but this fast travel screen doesn’t tell you anything other than the stage names so you’ll need to know where you missed any collectibles when using it. When playing stages, you no longer have to worry about being slingshot all over the place by Enerbeam points; instead, traditional springs and grinding rails are the order of the day, making the game far more linear. While this is great for blasting through it, it does mean you’ll have to replay each stage from the start if you missed any of the collectibles rather than being able to backtrack within the stage as before. Again, the average game speed is quite slow, meaning you have to hold Y to sprint ahead and control is frequently taken out of your hands by loops, speed boosts, and auto-running sections. Every stage also includes a “Challenge Room” that is hidden a little bit out of the way; enter it and you’ll be tasked with completing a short obstacle course of sorts and navigating through a few hazards to grab a Trading Card. Also, you’ll find “Dragon Rings” in each stage; grab one and ten more will spawn along a path for you to collect within a time limit to earn a piece of Ragnium.

Alongside returning Sea Fox and racing sections, the new hovercraft and tunnel races add some variety.

Trading Cards and Ragnium are essential if you’re going for 100% completion as they can be used to unlock courses and Bot Racers on Thunder Island. This new gameplay element is presented alongside the aforementioned returning Sea Fox sections; now found on the main overworld map, they are much bigger and have more hazards and requirements than before but the controls remain the same (tap the screen to activate the sonar and see hazards and collectibles and fire missiles with X). This time around, though, once you’ve blasted the Trading Card, the stage will end automatically and you can try to finish them (and every stage) faster for a Ragnium shard. The racing stages also make a return, though this time they take place in a three lap format and pit you against Eggman’s Bot Racers rather than traditional Sonic rivals. Again, you’ll need to switch between fire and ice and use rails, stomps, and the Homing Attack to win and these races are often quite tricky as the computer controlled Bot is easily able to overtake or match pace with you. Also returning are the Worm Tunnel stages from the last game but without the worms and themed after ice and fire instead; while you still boost along down an auto-run tunnel and switch lanes to avoid bombs, this time you’ll need to switch to ice to run across frozen surfaces and fire to blast through ice blocks and will have to avoid more obstacles and race against much tighter time limits than before. A new bonus stage is also included, however, which sees you piloting Tails’ hovercraft in a vertical shooter of sorts. You can boost ahead by holding R and shoot missiles at icebergs with X but also have to watch out for whirlpools and mines, collecting clocks to extend your time and trying to reach the goal to earn another Trading Card before you’re destroyed or run out of time.

Graphics and Sound:
Graphically, not much has really changed from the last game; in fact, everything basically looks and sounds and plays exactly the same except with a stronger emphasis on ice and fire scattered throughout each stage. The camera is still positioned in this awkward way where your character and enemies are big enough but you don’t necessarily get fair warning of any hazards that might be in your way but, again, the game’s slower pace does somewhat compensate for this. As before, the game’s overworld is divided into islands; this time, there are seven, with six being home to the playable action stages where you’ll progress the story and the seventh being home exclusively to your upgrades and Bot Racers.

Some islands feature a bit more life and unique aesthetic and mechanics but they’re few and far between.

Thanks to the emphasis on ice and ice, you can expect to see a lot of elemental hazards and themes used throughout each stage, which again largely stick to the usual platforming clichés such as forests, deserts, and volcanoes but each island does try to add some variety in its bonus stages (such as the race missions, for example, which take place in a much more industrial, mechanical environment and the tunnels, which are all in caverns). Just like the last game, though, stages often appear largely barren and lifeless even though they’re generally much brighter and more varied in their appearance. You’ll notice that there is an abundance of spikes this time around and far more rails to grind and springs to hit than there are Enerbeam swing points this time around, which contributes to the game trying to be a bit more like a traditional Sonic title, and islands like Cutthroat Cove and Gothic Gardens try to bring some visual flair to the proceedings by including skeletal remains, haunted graveyard-like aesthetics, and having you explode barrels with your fire ability but, again, stage variety mainly comes down to a reskin of the same mechanics, meaning that the game can get quite boring quite quickly even with the added mechanics.

Thankfully, not only does the game utilise CG cutscenes for its story but Dr. Eggman is back as the central antagonist.

Thankfully, Fire & Ice ditches the boring speech bubbles and partially-animated cutscenes of its predecessor and doubles down on the CG cutscenes. Any time there’s a new story element or the plot progresses, a fully animated and fully voiced cutscene is used to show this progression and, even better, these look and feel exactly like an episode of the cartoon, containing all of the same wacky banter and hijinx you expect from these characters. These cutscenes, and the game in general, are bolstered further by the presence of the bombastic Dr. Eggman, whose absence really sucked a lot of the life out of the last game, though, again, I can’t say that I was blown away by much of the music, with is serviceable enough, at best.

Enemies and Bosses:
Although Dr. Eggman returns as the primary antagonist, many of the robots you’ll encounter are just as uninspired as in the last game; again, they don’t release little woodland critters upon destruction and generally appear sporadically throughout stages to act as destructible platforms to higher areas or brief hazards to shed you of your Rings. You can still use the Enerbeam to relieve them of their shields and many of them will respawn when you leave the screen to be used again but, for the most part, they’re nowhere near as memorable or quirky as Eggman’s usual Badniks.

Switch between the different characters to dodge Unga Bunga’s hands and avoid sticky tar.

However, this time around Fire & Ice actually includes boss battles! Four of them, in fact, with each one featuring an auto tag mechanic that has you (as Sonic) switching out with another of your team mates during the battle (unlike the last game, which ditched your teammates altogether for its one boss battle). Each boss is a massive mechanical monstrosity piloted by D-Fekt in his desperate attempt to win his master’s affections by destroying Sonic and his friends and requires a bit more strategy than just bouncing into a cockpit to bring down. The first boss, Unga Bunga, sees Sonic and Amy team up against a giant series of totem poles that tries to smash you with its flaming hands. Once you’ve dodged out of the way and scored with the Homing Attack enough times as Sonic, Amy will tag in and needs to use her fire hammer to melt the ice blocks to that Sonic can alternate between fire and ice to climb the totem pole and attack the boss’s head. Honestly, the hardest part about this fight for me was the brief moment of stupidity where I didn’t realise that Amy needed to be in fire mode to destroy the ice blocks; once you crack that, though, it’s simply a case of having the right element equipped to attack its head. The second boss has Sonic and Tails take turns battling a giant golem-like robot that drops sticky blobs of tar into the arena; if you get stuck in the tar, you’ll have to mash B to free yourself before the boss attacks with its claw-like tentacles. When these fly across the arena, hop up and use the Homing Attack as Sonic to deal damage and then, as Tails, you’ll have to use the air vents on each side of the arena to hover between the floating bubbles and avoid dropping into the damaging tar that floods to floor until the golem collapses and opens itself up for another Homing Attack. You can also use Tails’ laser blaster to clear out the tar bubbles, which is handy to know was the hazards, speed, and aggression of the bosses attacks increase as the fight progresses, making this a bit more frustrating than the first boss simply because of the limited nature of Tails’ hover.

Disposing of the spider’s mines can be quite tricky, but the final boss is the easiest of the game’s bosses.

Next, Sonic and Knuckles team up against a huge spider cobbled together from nearby junk; the spider likes to try and ram into you in its first phase, though you can take advantage of the nearby temporary platforms to avoid it and hit it with a Homing Attack (but watch out for the lingering acid residue it leaves in its wake). After the first portion of its health bar has been drained (this is the only boss in the game with three health bars, oddly enough), it’ll spit web balls at you that you must hit back at it with a well-timed Homing Attack. Finally, you’re forced to burrow into the ground with Knuckles; the spider releases a number of mines into the dirt that will explode if you don’t burrow around them in a circle with the right element equipped to send them back at the boss, which I found to be one of the more frustrating parts of this boss as it can be a bit difficult to make a circle in the restrictive area you’re trapped in. Finally, after enduring the hardest race, Worm Tunnel, Sea Fox, and hovercraft stages in the game, you’ll have a final showdown with D-Fekt on the volcanic island of Ragna Rock. This time, Sonic teams up with Sticks and must either dodge the falling boulders or use Sticks’ boomerang (in conjunction with your elemental abilities) to destroy them as they rain from the sky while also jumping over the flaming shockwaves they leave as they land. When the two-headed dragon’s tail appears onscreen, quickly hit it with a Homing Attack with the right element equipped to deal damage and, before you know it, this disappointing final boss will be done and you’ll be victorious.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like its predecessor, Fire & Ice is sadly missing many of the power-ups you might expect from a Sonic title and actually has even less on offer to help you out than Shattered Crystal as you can only find shield capsules in stages rather than ones containing additional Rings. On the flip side, though, the game is also much easier in a lot of ways since the stages may have increased but they’re also much shorter and, again, there’s little to no danger of dying and even less emphasis on collecting Rings as you don’t need to do this to earn collectibles this time around. Similar to the last game, though, each stage features a number of collectibles for you to find either by finishing the stage, completing Challenge Rooms, or exploring using the character’s unique abilities.

Trade your Ragnium for upgrades and Bots or collect hammers to equip reskins for Amy’s signature mallet.

Once you have collected enough Trading Cards, you can bring them to Knuckles at Tails’ Workshop on the overworld to complete a variation of the first game’s jigsaw mini games and unlock additional courses for your Bot Racers. You can also find junk in each stage that you must deliver to Sticks’ Burrow, similar to the crystal shards from the first game, in order to unlock a special Bot Racer. Every time you complete a stage, defeat enemies, or fulfil certain objectives, you’ll earn a piece of Ragnium; with enough of these, you can purchase additional Bot Racers and the same upgrades from the last game (an instant shield at your first checkpoint, a Ring attractor, and the ability to destroy enemies with the spring function) however these came at a much higher cost than in the last game. Finally, you’ll also be able to find hammers in each stage; collect enough of these and you’ll unlock different hammer skins for Amy that serve no function as far as I can tell other than looking different.

Additional Features:
Sadly, there’s far less on offer in Fire & Ice for 100% completion than in Shattered Crystal; you don’t need to collect every piece of Ragnium to finish the game, it doesn’t take much to find all the junk, hammers, and Trading Cards, and the rewards for finding these collectibles are minimal, at best. While you can still visit Sonic’s Shack to view cutscenes, listen to music, and read a bonus comic, the toy shop is gone so you can’t even view character models any more and you don’t even unlock a lame party like in the last game. Instead, the bulk of the game’s additional features are focused entirely around Bot Racing; you can purchase new Bot Racers on Thunder Island and use the 3DS’ wireless connectivity to race against other players across a variety of courses but I don’t know anyone else who has a copy of the game so this was completely wasted on me and I never got to experience it.

The Summary:
If you’ve played Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal then there’s not much new on offer in Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice; the game looks and plays pretty much exactly the same just with a fire and ice mechanic tacked on with very little explanation and to add a slight wrinkle to the formula from the last game. Fire & Ice is both easier but artificially longer than Shattered Crystal thanks to the stages being better spread across the overworld, meaning it’s much easier to play in short bursts, and the story is much funnier and feels more authentic thanks to the inclusion of Dr. Eggman. However, while the team-based mechanic is better emphasised in the inclusion of actual boss battles, I found myself switching characters far less than in the first game; Knuckles, especially, is massively underutilised in the game and it’s perfectly viable to just stick with Sonic and still succeed without much issue. Separating the different gameplay mechanics like the Sea Fox into their own stages helps to make things a bit more manageable and provide a bit of variety to the gameplay and not locking progression behind arbitrary tokens make the game less of a chore to play, to be sure. However, much of the replayability is similarly arbitrary as Amy’s hammers are largely cosmetic and there’s far less reward for your efforts after finishing the game and collecting everything unless you’re able to connect to another player. It’s definitely better than the first game thanks to your abilities not being tied to a damaging meter and the improvements to the story and progression but it’s still a far cry from a classic Sonic title. I appreciate all the little improvements and additions but, in the end, it fails to really be any better or worse than its predecessor even with the improved cutscenes and more action-orientated gameplay.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice? Do you think the game was an improvement over its predecessor or were you just as unimpressed with its offerings? Were you happy to see Amy Rose added to the playable roster and which of the characters was your favourite to play as? What did you think to the Sonic Boom cartoon, redesigns, and the introduction of Sticks? Would like to see more Sonic Boom content from SEGA or do you think it’s best to move on from that experiment? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice, good or bad, leave a comment below and check back in next Saturday for more Sonic content.

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (Nintendo 3DS)

Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I will be dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


Released: 11 November 2014
Developer: Sanzaru Games

The Background:
Sonic the Hedgehog is no stranger to reinvention and adaptation; as I’ve already detailed, Sonic’s design and backstory were dramatically different outside of Japan, where he was more of a snarky rock star as opposed to a Freedom Fighter who was once friends with the kindly Professor Ovi Kintobor. Sonic’s design was further altered for his jump to 3D, where he was redesigned as a more aerodynamic, anime character and many long-term Sonic fans have seen Sonic’s lore go through numerous changes so it’s honestly strange to me that there was such a negative backlash when Sonic and his friends were redesigned once more for SEGA’s CGI Sonic series, Sonic Boom (2014 to 2017). While the over abundance of sports tape was a bit strange, I was actually very much onboard with the redesigns at the time and fully believe that SEGA should have wiped the slate clean and started over with a fresh, new take on the franchise. Unfortunately, as great as the Sonic Boom cartoon was, the accompanying videogames irrevocably damaged the spin-off’s appeal; the Wii U title, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (Big Red Button, 2014) was notoriously glitchy and is generally regarded as one of the worst games in the franchise. The 3DS counterpart, however, was developed by a completely different team and, while Shattered Crystal was met with criticism for its lacklustre, repetitive gameplay, it was still received slightly more favourably than Rise of Lyric.

The Plot:
In a prequel to the Sonic Boom cartoon, Sonic and his friends race to rescue Amy Rose from the clutches of the malevolent, serpentine cyborg Lyric, the recently awakened Last Ancient who seeks to claim the fragmented Lost Crystal and, with it, the power to dominate the world!

Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal is a 2.5D action/adventure platform title with a heavy emphasis on exploration, character switching, and both finding collectibles and finishing stages as quickly as possible. If you don’t mind the headaches and eye strain, you can adjust the 3DS’s slider to activate the 3D effect, which adds a decent amount of depth and causes the colourful graphics to pop out nicely enough but I prefer to have this turned off to avoid being distracted by this effect. Like in Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998), when you first start the game you can only play as Sonic and will unlock the other playable characters (Miles “Tails” Prower, Sticks the Badger, and Knuckles the Echidna) as you complete stages and advance through the story. Each character can be switched to on the fly using either the directional pad or the touch screen, allowing you to quickly swap between the different characters and their unique abilities quickly enough, but all characters share some basic abilities. They can all jump with B, Homing Attack nearby enemies, springs, and other objects by pressing B again in mid-air, sprint by holding Y (basically the same as the Boost function that has become a staple of Sonic games), perform a stomp by pressing down and X in mid-air, and bust out the “Enerbeam” by pressing A to swing from certain platforms and remove shields from enemies.

Each character can use their unique abilities to traverse stages and reach new areas and secrets.

Each character also has their own unique mechanics to help you explore the game’s locations: Sonic can perform the Spin Dash when on the group and a vertical and horizontal air dash by pressing up, left, or right and X in mid-air to smash through blue blocks, and Tails can hover by holding B in mid-air (which he can use to ride air currents but this isn’t the same as his usual flying mechanic as he’ll quickly descend downwards as soon as you start hovering), toss bombs with X, and use his submarine, the Sea Fox, in certain areas. Sticks’ main gimmick is her boomerang, which you can throw with X to activate switches, collect Golden Rings and items, or defeat enemies; you can even hold X to manually guide her boomerang for as long as the onscreen meter lasts but you’ll have to be very precise when trying to guide it through narrow passageways. Finally, there’s Knuckles, who disappointingly can’t glide or climb walls anymore but he can punch with X and burrow through specific parts of the environment to reach new areas and items; however, if his meter runs out when you’re burrowing, you’ll be deposited back where you started and take damage so be sure to hold Y to burrow faster, avoid any mines, and pop out of the ground before you lose all of your Rings! Speaking of which, as always, Golden Rings will protect you from damage and can be found…sporadically….across each of the game’s locations. Unlike pretty much every single Sonic game, though, Shattered Crystal doesn’t have a standard life system; collecting one hundred Rings will earn you a Token but doesn’t grant you an extra life and, if you fall down one of the many bottomless pits or fall into water, you’ll be deposited back to the last piece of solid ground you were on and take damage rather than dying. If you get hurt without any Rings, you’ll simply respawn at the last checkpoint you passed (or at the start of the stage) and can continue on, all of which makes the game significantly easier than most Sonic games as you never have to worry about running out of lives. This is helpful as I found myself struggling a bit with the controls; for some reason, I just didn’t find them very intuitive and it seemed like the developers went out of their way to use all of the buttons (except for L and R) when they really didn’t need to.

The map is a bit limited and areas are often locked out until you collect enough Sonic Badges.

I mentioned Tokens just now and you can earn these in every stage by finishing with a hundred Rings and/or within a specific time limit. If you take too long to finish a stage, you’ll simply miss out on the Token rather than having to restart, which is helpful, but Tokens are a mere distraction rather than an incentive to play as they’re simply used to purchase “Toys” from a shop and to add to your overall completion percentage. Each stage also hides a number of Crystal shards and Blueprints, both of which also unlock additional, extraneous features, but the main reason you’ll want to find these and finish stages is that they award “Sonic Badges” (kind of like the Emblems in Sonic Adventure) which are necessary to unlock stages. If you don’t collect enough, you’ll have to go back and replay previous stages and explore a bit more to find these items and earn a Sonic badge in order to progress the story, which is a bit like Sonic Unleashed’s (ibid, 2008) Sun and Moon Medals (though I never had any instances in that game where I was locked out of stages like I was here). Thus, the best thing to do is to take your time and explore every stage as thoroughly as possible and then replay it afterwards to go for the fastest time since the Sonic Badges are actually needed to progress. Stages in Shattered Crystal are unlike anything I’ve seen in a Sonic game before; you enter them from a limited overworld map (from which you can also access Tails’ Workshop and the aforementioned shop and travel to other islands to take on more stages) and, rather than being divided into or labelled as “Zones” or “Acts”, you’re simply presented with a large, multi-layered stage to explore.

Gameplay is spiced up a bit by some submarine, auto-run, and racing sections.

The game runs at a pretty slow speed for the most part; you have to hold Y to move faster and there are an abundance of automatic boost sections where you can literally take your hands off the 3DS since your input is not required, but speed is not the objective of this Sonic game. Instead, you need to explore high and low using each character’s abilities to find all the hidden times. Sometimes, you’ll need to grind on some rails and quickly chain together Homing Attacks or ride air currents and swing across gaps on the fly to reach these items, while others you just use the touch screen to slingshot your way to different parts of the stage to find them and work you way towards the exit. Gameplay is mixed up a little bit in the Sea Fox sections, which see you controlling the submarine in a series of underwater caves lined with mines. By touching the touch screen, you’ll activate the radar and get a brief look at the layout of the area and you can fire missiles with X to destroy mines and rocks that block your progress but be sure to keep an eye on the meter and avoid getting hit as this will cost you time (though you can, and absolutely should, collect the clocks scattered around the area to refill this meter). Each of the game’s islands also includes an auto-running section where, you (as Sonic) must race along a tunnel very similar to the Special Stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), avoiding electrified barriers, switching lanes, Boosting through walls, collecting Rings, and using the Enerbeam to grapple onto overhead lines. If you fail to grapple at the right time or hit a barrier, you have to start from the beginning again and you can’t switch lanes while Boosting or jumping, which is extremely annoying, but, while these sections get faster and trickier as the game progresses, they’re pretty simple to complete on one or two (maybe three) tries. Similarly, you’ll also be asked to race against certain characters (including criminally underused cameos from Shadow the Hedgehog and Metal Sonic) in sidescrolling races that remind me of those from the Sonic Rivals games (Backbone Entertainment/Sega Studio USA, 2006 to 2007) except you can’t attack your rival like in those games.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal looks serviceable enough, for the most part; the graphics seem a little distorted at times but, to be fair, I find that to be a common issue with the 3DS. The camera is maybe zoomed out a little too much, though, or in this weird, awkward position where you can’t really see enough of what’s ahead to make the split-second jumps or actions required of you. It’s also, at times, a little difficult to see what’s part of the environment and what can hurt you; I found this especially troublesome in the Ancient City stages, where it wasn’t immediately clear that pools of water or waterfalls could damage you.

The game’s a mixture of the usual clichés but they can be quite colourful and make decent use of the 3D effects.

The game is split into six islands, each with up to three stages to play. Each island is modelled after such age old gaming clichés as a beach, a canyon, or a volcano and is distinguished by little more than a slight change in the overworld design and layout of the levels. As you progress, you’ll notice more breaks in the grinding rails, for example, or more air currents and switches, or a mixture of these and other mechanics to put everything you’ve learned along the way to the test. By the time you reach the final island, Air Fortress, the game finally ditches the hint balloons and leaves you to figure out for yourself to switch to Tails at the last second or has you desperately trying to hit switches with Sticks as platforms appear and disappear beneath your feet. Sadly, there really isn’t all the much to make each island unique; the aforementioned temporary platforms and rails look the same no matter which island you’re on and it’s rare that stages get a chance to be much more than a skin swap.

Sadly, the game relies too much on speech bubbles to tell its story rather than CG cutscenes.

The Scrapyard and Robot Facility give it a go by introducing a grimy, industrial aesthetic and substituting spikes for jet flames, but you’ll see these elements repeated in the Volcanic Caverns and Air Fortress, which takes away from their distinctiveness. Some stages, like the Ancient Ruins, remind me a little of similar “Ruins” stages from other Sonic titles, which is a nice call-back if nothing else. The game’s story is told using both CG cutscenes in the style of the Sonic Boom cartoon and partially animated sequences where characters talk using speech balloons that are often way too big for the words they are saying. Voice clips are also used in these sections, and during gameplay, and the writing is about on point for the show, being an amusing mixture of bickering, confidence, and absurdity amongst the main four characters. As for music, I can’t really say I was massively impressed with what Shattered Crystal had to offer; it was catchy and fitting enough but nothing too special and the sound effects were the same recycled tunes we’ve heard over and over again from recent Sonic releases.

Enemies and Bosses:
In a rare change of pace for a Sonic title, Shattered Crystal does not feature the traditional Badnik enemies we’ve all come to know and love; indeed, Dr. Eggman himself appears only in one, very brief scene and he and his robot army are, instead, supplanted by Lyric and his…robot army. Lyric’s robots are very similar to the Badniks of old, firing projectiles your way and generally being a nuisance, but lack a lot of the character and charm of Sonic’s usual enemies. Occasionally, you’ll have to use the Enerbeam to relieve an enemy of its shield or maybe switch to Tails or Sticks to attack from a distance but, for the most part, robots exist simply to be an annoyance or act as an alternative route to new areas and goodies, often respawning in order to fulfil this function, and aren’t even made satisfying to smash since no little woodland critters are released upon their destruction. In another change of pace for not just a Sonic game but videogames in general, Shattered Crystal doesn’t actually have any boss battles except for the final bout against Lyric. Instead, you’ll race down the Worm Tunnels as a giant mechanic worm tears up the environment around you; the worm itself, however, cannot harm you and all you really need to do is stay alive through quick lane switching to win.

Lyric, the only boss in the game, is a joke and easily beaten with the bare minimum of skill.

In fact, the closest thing the game has to traditional boss battles before the finale are the racing sections, which have Sonic race against Sticks, Shadow, and Metal Sonic towards a goal, hopping from springs, rails, swinging over gaps and dashing through objects as you go. These can be a bit challenging as your rival is often only a few steps behind you so it’s best to try and take the higher path wherever possible and keep your thumb pressed to the Y button to sprint ahead. Once you reach the Air Fortress, you’ll have to battle Lyric in a three stage boss battle that is broken up by similar race sections; Sonic’s friends are all captured, completely neutering the game’s core mechanic and theme of teamwork, and you must chase after them between Lyric’s phases. When you battle Lyric, it’s on a progressively smaller and dangerous platform; if you fall or are knocked off, you’ll respawn back on it but it’ll cost you Rings or possibly kill you if you don’t have any Rings left. Lyric’s attacks increase in speed and ferocity as the battle progresses and you’re given less time to counterattack but, fundamentally, the core strategy remains the same and ridiculously easy throughout the fight: avoid his vertical and horizontal lasers, dodge the missiles (grabbing any Rings as they appear), and Homing Attack his tentacles to dispel his energy shield and Homing Attack his cockpit (which you can also attack when he fires his horizontal laser).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Just as it’s disappointingly light on boss battles, Shattered Crystal is equally light on power-ups; you’ll find capsules containing Rings and a protective shield in the stages but that’s all. There is no speed up shoes or invincibility monitors here, no Special Stages to play or Chaos Emeralds to collect for a power-up, and characters are limited to their specific abilities, with no option to upgrade them or learn new ones.

Explore to find Blueprints, which can be assembled to earn upgrades and make the game even easier.

If you collect all of the Blueprints in each stage, though, you’ll be able to build an upgrade at Tails’ Workshop by completing a simple jigsaw puzzle mini game. These allow you to upgrade the map up to three times to highlight secrets and nearby bonuses, grant you an instant shield at your first checkpoint, cause Rings to be attracted to you, halve the amount of Rings you lose when taking damage, and instantly destroy enemies with the Enerbeam or whilst sprinting (effectively turning this function into the actual Boost function).

Additional Features:
Shattered Crystal makes every effort to encourage you to explore every stage with each character in order to find all of the Crystal shards and Blueprints and to meet the criteria to win every Token in the game (which you can also earn by working out with Knuckles every twenty-four hours). Sadly, as mentioned, these Tokens are pretty useless; if you want to get 100% and see all the toys the game has on offer, it’s not a bad incentive to keep playing but it’s not that great either as the toys basically amount to character models of the characters and enemies and not much else.

Read a comic, collect some toys, and watch the characters dance. All honestly really rubbish bonus features.

Thankfully, you don’t need to find all of the Crystal shards to finish the game but, thanks to the map upgrades, it’s very easy to find them all; when you find them, you can restore the titular shattered crystal at Sticks’s Burrow and, once it’s fully restored, you’ll get the grand prize of a Purple Token and a special toy of the main characters. If you then collect all of the Sonic Badges, you can unlock Amy’s House and are treated to an amusing (if awkward) scene of the five main characters dancing to a bit of disco music and…that’s it. You can’t unlock Amy as a playable character, don’t unlock any additional forms or skins, and the only reason you’d really want to go back and find everything is so that your save file reads 100%. You can also visit Sonic’s Shack to watch the game’s cutscenes and read a bonus comic, and use the 3DS’ Streetpass function and to connect to the Wii U but I have no idea what these functions do, if anything.

The Summary:
I’d heard nothing but negative feedback regarding Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal; this didn’t necessarily put me off the game as, being a die-hard Sonic fan, I’m happy to play any and all Sonic titles and make my own opinions but I had put this game off for way too long and was happy to finally bite the bullet and experience it for myself. Overall, I have to say that it’s nowhere near as bad as I was led to believe; it’s not great, certainly, and is a very different type of Sonic game but it’s pretty simple to play and complete and was fun enough as a brief distraction. Having said that, though, it’s a tough game to recommend; it’s annoying that you can’t destroy enemies by jumping on them (you have to use the Homing Attack or character’s abilities) and it’s very tedious to lock out your progression with the Sonic Badges and force you to replay other stages just to progress the story. Similarly, even with all the map upgrades, you still need to explore every stage to the fullest as Blueprints and Crystals will only appear when they’re nearby and the lack of a real reward for finding everything is a big letdown. Still, there’s enough here to distract you (especially younger players) for a day or two and it’s not bad as an action/adventure platformer if you keep your expectations low.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think about Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal? Did you enjoy the game or were you put off by the emphasis on exploration instead of speed and action? What did you think to the different characters and which was your favourite to play as? Were you disappointed with the game and, if so, what were some of the flaws that put you off it? What did you think to the Sonic Boom cartoon, redesigns, and the introduction of Sticks? Would you have liked to see SEGA replace the existing Sonic designs with those from Sonic Boom and apply them to more traditional Sonic games? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal, good or bad, leave a comment below and be sure to check out my review of the sequel.

Game Corner: Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Nintendo 3DS)

Released: 18 February 2016
Developer: Arzest/Spike Chunsoft
Also Available For: Arcade and Nintendo Wii U

The Background:
Nintendo’s Super Mario and SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog went head to head as their respective company’s mascots during the “Console Wars” of the nineties, resulting in some of the greatest and most influential videogames of that generation, and both company’s went to great lengths to prove that their consoles were the superior. Ultimately, thanks to many expensive peripherals and an ever-changing marketplace, SEGA were forced to withdraw from the home console market and their supersonic mascot appeared on Nintendo consoles, leading to discussions of a long-awaited crossover began between Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and Sonic creator Yuji Naka.

Mario and Sonic continually face off in a series of tie-ins to the Olympic Games.

Surprisingly, the two were brought together in the spirit of friendly competition after SEGA was awarded the 2008 Beijing Olympic licence. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (SEGA Sports R&D, 2007) followed as a result; though basically a series of mini games featuring Mario and Sonic characters taking part in Olympic events, the game was a commercial success and led to a series of annual titles being released in conjunction with a number of different Olympic events. This year, I finally got around to playing the 2016 edition of the game, which was set in Rio de Janeiro after they won the right to host the games that year so, since the Beijing Winter Olympic Games are set to kick off today, I figured this was an ideal time to leech off of that event and share my thoughts about this title.

The Plot:
Players create a Mii character and choose to join either Sonic’s gym or Mario’s gym. Either choice sees them training with, and facing off against, familiar Mario and Sonic characters in a bid to win as many gold medals as possible over the seven days of the Olympic Games.

If you’ve played any of the Mario & Sonic videogames before, you’ll know exactly what to expect heading into Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games; essentially, despite the presence of a story mode, the game is a collection of Olympic-themed mini games that go out of their way to take advantage of every single button, gimmick, and control scheme offered by the Nintendo 3DS. The game features forty-one characters from the Mario and Sonic franchises but, this time around, not only are your character selections limited to certain events (Knuckles the Echidna can only take part in the Javelin Throw and Boxing events, for example, while Waluigi can only be used in the Long Jump and BMX events) and come with different stats to give them more emphasis on power, speed, stamina, and the like, but you don’t even get to play as any of your favourite characters in the game’s “Road to Rio” story mode!

Pick between Mario’s Gym and Sonic’s Gym and train to level-up your Mii.

While you can select from the game’s many and varied events (each of which is accompanied by an easy, normal, and hard criteria to get bronze, silver, and gold medals, respectively, with different goals, scores, or times to hit for each) in the game’s single or multiplayer modes, the only way to unlock all of the game’s characters is to play through the story mode. Here, you take control of a Mii and play through seven days of the Olympic Games, visiting different towns in Rio and conversing with non-playable characters (NPCs) that include randomly generated Mii and Mario and Sonic characters. As is often the case, the story branches almost immediately as you’re asked to pick between Sonic’s Gym and Mario’s Gym; whichever you pick, you’ll be competing for gold medals against the opposing gym and can practise the game’s events to earn Training Points and level-up your Mii, which allows you to wear better costumes and increase your stats. The actual story itself is more basic than ever; Mario and Sonic’s Gyms are taking part in the Olympic Games in the spirit of friendly competition…and that’s about it. There are some subplots about Sonic and Mario being absent and Bowser being up to no good, but mainly it’s just a clunky narrative to let you experience the game’s events.

Levelling-up allows you to wear better outfits and improve your chances at getting gold medals.

Each location, and the bulk of the game’s action, takes place on the top screen of the 3DS; here, you navigate the largely empty and uninspiring overworld maps, interact with NPCs, and can see which day you’re playing, your current level, and how many apples and melons you have (which are needed to purchase new outfits and gear from the Yoshi NPCs located in each area). The bottom screen acts as a 2D map and allows you to manually save, view the stats of your current rival, view your stats and available gear, and change your Mii’s outfit whenever you like. Every day of the story mode is centred around you training to face a rival from the opposing gym; there are a number of smaller gyms (or “ginásios”) in each town (generally about four) where a character from your chosen side’s gym will challenge you to practise one of the game’s many events to earn apples and Training Points. As long as you finish between first and fourth, you’ll earn apples and Training Points, but the ginásio won’t be ticked off as complete unless you finish in first place (this is also the best way to earn the most rewards). You don’t actually have to beat the ginásios, however; you can tackle each day’s preliminary event and finals as is but you’ll dramatically increase your chances by beating ginásios and levelling-up so you can equip better gear to buff your stats.

You’ll need to make use of all the 3DS’s functions in order to complete each event.

To clear each day, you first need to qualify in the prelims for that day’s event: on the first day in the Mario’s Gym story, for example, you’ll need to qualify in the 100m Hurdles event before you go up against your rival (and other Mii), Silver the Hedgehog, in the finals; on the fourth day of the Sonic’s Gym story, you’ll need to take on Bowser Jr. in the Equestrian event. The ginásio training sees you playing the game’s other events but, while you don’t necessarily need to come first in the ginásio events, you do need to finish first in the prelims and finals to progress the story. Once again, many of these events are needlessly frustrating; you’ll get a brief overview of what to do before an event but this often doesn’t really help prepare you as it’ll provide basic instructions and then the actual event will throw new inputs and requirements at you that aren’t mentioned in the overview. The game’s events mostly have you rapidly tapping buttons, pressing specific button combinations, shouting or blowing into the microphone (which continues to make me feel a little woozy…), moving the 3DS about like a moron, or using the stylus or circle pad. Some of these are quite simple (Synchronised Duet is a glorified rhythm game where you must press A in time to the beat and switch reticules with the directional pad (D-pad), while Trampoline has you jumping and pressing A when you hit the centre of the trampoline and aiming yourself with the circle pad) but others can be extremely aggravating (Hammer Throw sees you holding the L and R buttons, gyrating the 3DS, and releasing the buttons at the right moment, and you’ll need to awkwardly tilt the 3DS about to aim and use L or R to shoot in the Double Trap shooting event).

The onscreen prompts and clunky controls can make even the simplest events arduous.

While there are far less doubles games, these will still crop up; Platform Diving (Synchronized) sees you pressing A to dive at the same time as your partner without the aid of an onscreen countdown, Badminton (Doubles) has you sliding the stylus down the touch screen to smack the flashing shuttlecock, and Beach Volleyball sees you moving with the circle pad to the highlighted areas and pressing either A (or X for a super shot once your gauge is full) to hit the ball back and score a point. While the events seem to be a bit fairer compared to the last Mario & Sonic game I played, they’re still incredibly vague at times and come down to a question of timing or frantic button mashing rather than skill. The Kayak event, for example, requires you to set the 3DS down and frantically spin the circle pad like an absolute madman; you’ll need to stave off a fainting spell and consistently blow into the microphone while steering to boost pads in the Sailing – 470 (Pair) event, and you’ll need to draw neat circles to swim along in the Backstroke event (but, of course, the directions for this are on the top screen rather than the bottom where you’re drawing).

“Plus” events add new obstacles and success criteria and allow you to unlock new characters.

Overall, the games are once again very hit and miss: Handball isn’t too bad and has you touching the screen to block incoming shots; Rhythmic Gymnastics has you pressing or holding buttons in time with some familiar music tracks, and the BMX event has been slightly tweaked to make cycling and hitting boost jumps a little easier but it’s still a very clunky experience. New to this version of the game are “Plus” events; you can unlock additional characters by playing these in the story mode, and they’re basically slightly modified versions of the prelims/finals you’ll take on for that day. This could mean the presence of an additional gauge to fill to gain access to helpful items, extra obstacles from the Mario and Sonic franchises that you’ll have to watch out for, or slight changes to the gameplay mechanics to speed things up or make things a bit more manic. You can only challenge the secret characters to these Plus events by qualifying for the finals, but they add a little spice to things such as adding bingo-like tiles to Beach Volleyball for additional points or riding or ducking under waves caused by Thwomps in 100m Freestyle Swimming Plus. Unfortunately, though, while many of the camera angles and mechanics have been tweaked for the better compared to the last Mario & Sonic game I played, very few of the game’s events are actually fun to play and it kind of neuters the appeal of the crossover to not let you play as Mario and Sonic characters in Road to Rio.

Graphics and Sound:
As a 3DS game, the graphics are decent enough for the most part; all of the Mario and Sonic characters look pretty good thanks to their cartoony aesthetic, but still only communicate using pantomime. This time around, the whole game is populated by Mii; even the crowd, when it is actually present, is mostly Mii this time but, once again, the game is very empty and not much to look at. The game’s locations are very sparse and all look the same, and the arenas are mostly lifeless. Similarly, the music isn’t much to shout about; there are some recognisable tunes here but mostly it’s just generic trumpets and fanfares. Cutscenes are even more basic than ever before, with still images being thrown at you for the opening scene, in-game graphics and text boxes used for dialogue and cinematics, and there are only a few very brief sound bites from the characters here and there, making for an overall very bland visual experience.

Enemies and Bosses:
As is often the case with these games, your opponents are dictated by which character and event you wish to play; you won’t be able to pit Wario against Blaze the Cat in archery, for example, but you can pit Yoshi against Shadow the Hedgehog in football. You won’t really get to battle against Mario and Sonic characters in Road to Rio, though; mostly, you’re pitted against generic Mii and you’ll only ever get a sniff of facing someone recognisable when going up against an opponent from the opposite team or battling an unlockable character.

Familiar characters will challenge you in the prelims, finals, and Plus events.

One the first day, you’ll take on either Silver the Hedgehog in 100m Hurdles or Yoshi in the 100m event; Hurdles see you holding B to charge up, tapping A to run, and then timing presses of B to hop over the hurdles, while 100m features similar controls but has you pressing B near the end to shave a few seconds off your time. 100m Plus has you going up against Nabbit, grabbing items to reach the goal and pressing B for an additional burst, while 100m Hurdles Plus sees you challenging Diddy Kong in the event which is made trickier by the hurdles moving up and down. Day two is all about Table Tennis in the Mario story and Beach Volleyball in the Sonic path; Table Tennis has you moving with circle pad or D-Pad and smacking the ball back at the right time with ether A (for a fast shot), B (for a slower backspin), or X (for a super shot) to see who wins the best of three sets, while Beach Volleyball is a doubles event and it can be tricky angling your shots correctly. Table Tennis Plus pits you against Zazz and has you accumulating more points by hitting the ball onto coloured, numbered tiles, while Beach Volleyball Plus has you playing against Roy and trying to get a bingo score going on.

You’ll need to train up in order to help you best your rival, or hope that events aren’t too difficult to master.

Day three forces you to endure Archery against Birdo and Rhythmic Gymnastics against Blaze; while this latter isn’t too bad, Archery is a pain in the ass thanks to having to use the 3DS’ gyroscopic controls to aim and the wind throwing off your arrows. Archery Plus adds a whole mess of targets to hit to screw things up even more, while Rhythmic Gymnastics Plus sees you avoiding hazards to chain together combos for a higher score. On day four, you’ll have to take on Bowser Jr. in the Equestrian event (where you must press B to jump at the right time and stay on track to fill up your boost gauge) and Espio in the Long Jump (which sees you rapidly tap A to run up, press X for a super dash, and then press B at the right time leap ahead and judged on your furthest distance). You’ll then take on the oft-underused Doctor Eggman Nega in Long Jump Plus, which adds a giant spring to propel you further, and Larry in Equestrian Plus, where giant obstacles from the Mario and Sonic series are littered across the course.

Each story culminates in one of the more frustrating events, with Golf being particularly aggravating.

Day five is all about Javelin in Sonic’s story and BMX in Mario’s; Javelin is a bit of a frustrating event that sees you swiping the stylus across the touch screen like an idiot, then trying to match the angle on the top screen without crossing the foul line (which is stupidly easy to do). In BMX, you need to rapidly tap A to cycle while staying on track with the circle pad, and hit B to make jumps and build up your super boost. When you face Dry Bowser in Javelin Plus, you get to toss a whole bunch of Javelins but this is really more for show than anything else, while you’ll need to avoid obstacles ad perform tricks in BMX Plus to beat Wave the Swallow’s record. Things pick up in day six in Sonic’s story as you get to take part in Boxing; here, you press B and A to punch, guard with Y, and unleash a super punch with X and can use item boxes to help take down Zavok in Boxing Plus. In Mario’s story, you have to best the 100m Freestyle Swimming event by drawing circles at just the right speed and tapping the screen at just the right time to turn around, but the shit really hits the fan on day seven. Everything ramps up, with some of the most finnicky games and controls, and you’re forced to play football in Sonic’s story (which sees you awkwardly passing the ball, tackling opponents, and trying to get a shot in and just goes on forever) or golf in Mario’s story (easily the most complex event, with wind speeds, angles, environment hazards, and extremely unhelpful and unclear directions meaning I won more out of luck than anything else!)

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As a glorified collection of mini games, there’s not many power-ups on offer; some events have you rapidly tapping A to recover stamina, or touching dash panels for a boost, and many reward a perfect finish with a fancy special flourish but you’ll only really see in-game benefits when playing Plus events. You can however, find hidden chests all over the game’s many locations (some even hidden behind springs or pipes) that will reward you with additional gear or melons. Every time you finish between first or fourth (or use the daily log-in/step challenge), you’ll earn both Training Points and apples. Apples can be traded for a variety of outfits with one Yoshi, while more additional items can be bought from another with melons; these items include new golf clubs, horses, hula rings, and boxing gloves that afford you additional boosts and benefits in their respective events and you can equip and unequip them at any time. Your outfits are limited by your character’s current level; the higher your level, you more gear you can equip and the better your stats will be, and you can even save sets of clothing to tailor your Mii for different events (boosting your strength over speed, for example).

Additional Features:
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games offers many of the same incentives for repeated play as its predecessors; at the start of the game, you can set up your Mii, regional flag, the computer’s difficulty level, and Street Pass to get daily rewards as you walk around. Quick play allows you to take on the computer or up to three other plays in all of the game’s different events, if you fancy testing your skill against others, and you have two story paths to play through. However, while your level, items, and costumes will transfer across each story, you can’t replay previous parts of the story at will and will need to play through from the beginning if you missed any chests, costumes, instruments, or unlockable characters. There’s also an achievement list to compare against other plays, a random medley option to mix and match events, and a challenge mode to take on but, once you’ve played through even one of the Road to Rio stories you’ve basically seen everything the game has to offer.

The Summary:
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games improves on quite a few aspects of the last entry I played but still suffers from many of the same issues that have bogged down the series since day one. Essentially, it’s just a collection of Olympic-themed mini games involving some of gaming’s most iconic characters but with the weird twist that you really don’t get to play as any of these characters in the story mode. Road to Rio is so dumbed down and basic compared to the story modes in the other Mario & Sonic games I’ve played that it really makes playing even more of a chore. Couple that with the needlessly overcomplicated gameplay mechanics, vague tutorials, clunky camera and controls, and once again you’re left flailing around like an idiot as you desperately blow crafts along or try to match onscreen prompts. As a lifelong Sonic fan, I’m always happy to play one of his titles but these really aren’t games built for me…I actually struggle to think of anyone who would actually enjoy them, to be honest. There are far better party games and mini game collections out there, and definitely way better Mario and Sonic games, so it’s really more of an annoying novelty more than anything.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy the 3DS version of Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games or did you prefer the Nintendo Wii version? How did you find the game’s motion controls, assortment of games, and story mode? Were you disappointed at the Mario and Sonic characters not being playable in Road to Rio? Do you agree that the concept is somewhat wasted on the Olympic Games or have you enjoyed the series so far? Which country are you pulling for in this year’s Olympic Games? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to sign up to leave a comment below, or leave a comment on my social media.