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’s Anniversary]: 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.

Game Corner: Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Nintendo 3DS)

Released: 9 February 2012
Developer: SEGA Sports R&D/Racjin
Also Available For: Nintendo Wii

The Background:
During the “Console Wars” of the nineties, there were no truer rivals than Nintendo’s Super Mario and SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog; both went head to head as their respective company’s mascots, spearheading the release of some of the greatest and most influential videogames of a generation, and both company’s went to great lengths over the years in a bid to prove that their consoles were the superior. In the end, though, thanks to a variety of expensive and poorly-conceived ideas and an ever-changing marketplace, SEGA were forced to withdraw from developing home consoles; now developing videogames for their competitors, SEGA’s supersonic mascot began appearing in games exclusive to Nintendo consoles and discussions of a long-awaited crossover began between Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and Sonic creator Yuji Naka.

The Mario & Sonic series continually pits the two rivals in a series of Olympic Games.

Rather than have their two iconic mascots meet in a merging of their worlds for a traditional platform title, however, 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 little more than a series of mini games featuring Mario and Sonic characters taking part in a number of 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. After many years of putting it off, I finally got around to playing the 2012 edition of the game, which was set in London since we Brits won the right to host the games that year so, since the Tokyo 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:
Sonic, Mario, and all their friends have arrived in London for the 2012 Olympic Games; however, annoyed that they weren’t invited to compete, King Bowser of the Koopas and Doctor Eggman join forces to cover London in the “Phantasmal Fog”, disrupting the games and forcing our heroes to battle against fog-based duplicates of themselves to dispel the fog and allow the Olympic Games to proceed as planned.

I’ve played games in the Mario & Sonic series before so I knew what to expect heading into Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games; while the games do generally have a story mode these days to make the gameplay a bit more involved than just a simple party game, it is still, nevertheless, a collection of Olympic-themed mini games. Because I’ve never been a fan of the Wii’s motion controls (or the Wii in general, if I’m honest), I always opt for the handheld versions of these sorts of games in the hopes that they will be less frustrating to play.

The game’s events restrict which characters you can use according to their specific classes.

Sadly, for the most part, that isn’t the case with Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, a game which, seemingly, goes out of its way to use every single button, control, and aspect of the 3DS for its numerous events. The game features twenty playable characters, each of which falls into one of five different character classes (Heroes, Challengers, Girls, Wild Ones, and Tricksters) and, as a result, each character takes part in different events (Sonic, for example, can be used in the Marathon event, Yoshi in Shot Put, Blaze the Cat in Beach Volleyball, Bowser in Wrestling, and Metal Sonic in Hockey) and you cannot mix characters or classes.

Each event has medals to go for and different controls to master.

The moment you start a new game, Omochao rears his ugly little head to talk you through some of the game’s basic controls; you can then select from a few different customisation options, single or multiplayer events, or the game’s story mode. If you choose the single or multiplayer modes, you can select from all of the game’s many and varied events, each of which comes with an easy, normal, and hard criteria to get bronze, silver, and gold medals, respectively, with different goals, scores, or times to hit for each, as well as a brief overview of the event’s controls and objectives.

Bowser and Eggman team up in the story mode to disrupt the Olympic Games with their fog.

I skipped this, however, and went straight to the story mode. The story allows you to take control of all of the game’s playable characters and the vast majority of the mini games and events the game has to offer, all while dialogue boxes and some limited voice clips and effects convey the game’s simple story. Generally, the story branches into two separate paths, one that follows primarily Mario characters and one that follows mainly Sonic characters, with the groups mixing up, overlapping, and interacting as they investigate the Phantasmal Fog, battle their shadowy doubles, and go head to head with Bower, Eggman, and their underlings.

Complete Challenges to clear each episode of the story mode.

It’s a pretty simple story, one that is geared more towards teaching younger players a little about London and the Olympic Games more than anything, and it’s extremely linear. You can jump to a map screen to replay events (or just let the story take you from one episode to the next), skip cutscenes if you’re retrying an event, and are given a number of Challenges to complete to advance the plot. In the story’s early going, you’ll probably only be required to complete one or two Challenges but, as the story progresses, you’ll be asked to more, with each Challenge being comprised of harder or more complex events. Only first place will do here; if you don’t come first, you fail the Challenge and must either retry or choose a different Challenge if you want to see the story through to completion.

Though you’re given a brief overview of each event’s controls, the actual gameplay can be tricky.

As you play, you’ll be required to take part in a number of Olympic Games; it’s kind of weird that characters just spontaneously challenge their rivals to these games, and how the stadiums and arenas and locations and crowds and such just “appear” when you need to compete but…what do you expect? This is the best way, though, to experience a variety of the game’s events and get an idea of what is required of you. Sadly, however, many of the game’s events are an exercise in frustration; as I mentioned, you’ll be given a brief overview of what to do before an event but, sometimes, that doesn’t really help prepare you for the actual gameplay of that event.

Some events are made needlessly complicated by the game’s use of the 3DS many controls.

Generally, you’ll be rapidly tapping buttons, inputting specific button combinations, shouting or blowing into the microphone (which I can’t seem to find on my 3DS and which makes me a little lightheaded since I’m so unfit…), moving the 3DS about, or using the stylus to complete these events. Some, like the Pole Vault and 100M Backstroke, aren’t too difficult (you must angle the circle stick in a diagonal direction to charge your vault and release before the hidden meter overfills and your pole breaks or rapidly draw circles with the stylus to swim faster) but others, like Archery (Solo) and BMX are maddeningly frustrating (you don’t just aim and shot in Archery, you need to account for wind currents which can screw up your shot, and BMX requires almost perfect hand co-ordination to tilt the 3DS in the right position to give you a much-needed boost).

Be careful not to damage your touch screen trying to get to grips with the game’s controls…

Almost all of the events have one thing in common and that is that they come down to split second timing as much as skill; if you do not time your inputs exactly right, you’re screwed but, often, the game’s button prompts and directions mislead you and cause you to fail. Take the Triple Jump, for example; it seems pretty easy (tap the touch screen left and right in an alternating pattern and then tap in time with the directions to leap) but if you tap for your first jump when the game/button prompt tells you then you will fail on a foul since you jumped too late! Similarly, Basketball only gives you an aiming reticule in the training mode, which makes landing a shot really difficult with the 3DS’s motion controls, and many games that have you draw on the bottom screen have the directions on the top, which is really confusing as you’d expect to tap targets on the touch screen when playing the Shooting events.

It takes some time to figure out exactly what’s required of you and perfect your timings.

Others seem incredibly random or unfair just for the sake of it; the 20km Racewalk event, for example, has you moving the stylus to a tempo at just the right speed. The game helpfully tells you when to speed up and penalises you if you need to slow down but it’s more annoying than anything to try and get the balance just right. The Canoe Slalom (Pair) event has you balancing with the circle pad and tapping A to pass through gates, which sounds easy but is super tricky as the control stick is overly sensitive, and you’ll be jerking your 3DS around like a moron trying to hit targets in the Double Trap event.

Other events are troublesome because of a dodgy camera angle as well as poor onscreen prompts.

Similarly, in a lot of events are handicapped by poor camera angles; it’s hard to see (or know) what you’re doing in the Sprint event as you’re stuck in a bad position and your opponent just rockets away too fast for you to catch, and it’s very difficult to judge your positioning in the ball-based games like Badminton and Football (to say nothing of the Goddamn Table Tennis (Doubles) event which requires you to switch between two characters but sometimes they swap independently and always right as you think you have the rhythm down). It’s equally difficult to make jumps in the 3000m Steeplechase event as the camera position means you don’t see which sort of button press is required of you until the very last second; the same goes for the Marathon event, where the angle is positioned just annoyingly enough to mean you need split-second accuracy to pick up the water bottle at the right time.

Some events are actually fun to play rather than being needlessly overcomplicated or frustrating.

It’s not all bad, though; some events (like 25m Rapid Fire Pistol, Trampoline, and Wrestling) can be fun but there’s very little room for error here; it may take some practice to understand exactly what is required of you but, generally, once you get the inputs down you can usually scrape by to advance the game’s story to the next episode. Other times, though, you’ll have to take on a number of quick-fire events in a row, with no way to restart if you fail one until you load into the next event (and then you have to restart the whole Challenge so be sure to retry before you fail), and by the end of it all you’ll be too burned out to really want to try out the other events in the game’s single player mode.

Graphics and Sound:
Being that it’s a 3DS game, the graphics are serviceable enough; Mario, Sonic, and all their friends and enemies look pretty good and coexist decently enough thanks to their cartoony aesthetic but it’s a bit weird how some characters (the girls, mostly) are dressed to compete and others are not and how characters like Sonic are suddenly only able to communicate in pantomime.

The game’s presentation is decent enough and mixes cartoony characters with real-world locations.

Otherwise, there’s not much to the in-game graphics; the story mode sees the characters visit a number of iconic British landmarks but they’re mostly lifeless voids or obscured by thick, colourful fog. When you enter the events themselves, there’s a decent amount of detail, with minor Mario and Sonic characters filling out the crowds and the arenas sharing the same bright, cartoony aesthetic of the characters. Musically, though, aside from a few recognisable sound clips and sound effects, there’s nothing really Mario or Sonic about this title as it opts for simple trumpets and fanfares.

Enemies and Bosses:
Outside of the game’s story mode, your choices for opponents are dictated by which character, class, and event you wish to play; you won’t be able to pit Sonic against Eggman in a Triathalon, for example, but you can pit Knuckles against Donkey Kong in a Boxing match.

You’ll have to compete against fog imposters of numerous Mario and Sonic characters.

In the story mode, you’ll mostly compete against evil fog imposters of Mario and Sonic characters; Amy Rose and Princess Daisy, for example, get to take on the imposter versions of Blaze and Princess Peach in Beach Volleyball and Yoshi will have to compete against imposter versions of Shadow the Hedgehog and Silver the Hedgehog in the 1500m and 10km Marathon Swim events. As you progress, the amount of Challenges you have to clear increases, as does the difficulty of your opponents, and you’ll be allowed to choose between different characters to take on different events and imposters.

Dry Bowser and Dry Bones challenge you to a bit of sail boat racing…

In the course of the game’s story, you’ll also compete against a number of boss characters; it is only by clearing these challenges that you’ll bring that episode to an end and progress to the next part of the story. The first boss battle pits you (as Mario and Luigi) against the duo of Dry Bowser and Dry Bones and has you frantically blowing into the microphone and awkwardly steering your ship across boost panels in the 470 (Pair) event. This is a pretty ridiculous game as the controls are way too slippery and it’s ridiculously easy to just wander into the path of a whirlpool…yet it’s also stupidly easy to win even with minimum effort.

Time your stylus swipes perfectly to beat the Boos at Badminton.

Next, you’ll take on King Boo and Boo in Badminton (Doubles) as Sonic and Miles “Tails” Prower; this involves sliding the stylus (or your finger) down the touch screen as the shuttlecock comes towards you. Don’t do this too soon, though, or you’ll miss like an idiot; instead, you should aim to hit it when the shuttlecock flashes red but this gets tricky as the rallies get faster and faster and, one time, the ball went between Sonic and Tails and they just stood there like lemons!

Outperform Rouge and Jet and they will briefly help you in the game’s story mode.

Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games sees the welcome return of Jet the Hawk as a boss character who challenges Shadow to a 3000m Steeplechase, and also has you competing against Rouge the Bat as Peach in the 100m Backstroke, neither of which are particularly challenging thanks to these events being two of the more user-friendly games. When you take on Bowser Jr, however, you must do so in a three-stage event that sees Yoshi having to fight with the poor game prompts in the Triple Jump, hold the 3DS like an idiot in the 10km Marathon Swim, and struggle through a 3000m Steeplechase, or Silver desperately try to aim for the centre and time button presses correctly in Trampoline, fumble through Basketball, and press and hold the stylus without messing up in Floor. Your best bet to beat Bowser Jr is to pick Shadow, whose events are much easier to get through.

Some bosses require you to finish first in multiple events.

You’ll also come up against one of the most wasted characters ever introduced into the Sonic franchise, Eggman Nega, and have to compete against him in a 4 x 100 relay that simply asks you to slide the stylus to pass the baton between Luigi, Tails, Mario, and Sonic. Similarly easygoing is Donkey Kong’s encounter with E-123Ω “Omega”, which sees you timing presses of the A and B button and going for a super tackle in the Wrestling – Freestyle event. Unfortunately, when Sonic takes on Magikoopa, it’s in the God-awful BMX event which literally had me tearing my hair out as I just couldn’t figure out how the tilt the 3DS properly to land correctly!

Your first encounters with Eggman and Bowser aren’t too difficult to get through.

You’ll battle against both Bowser and Dr. Eggman a couple of times in the story mode; you’ll first face Eggman with Wario and then alongside Waluigi to take on Eggman and Metal Sonic, but he isn’t really a challenge (the Hockey game you must complete is really just a glorified version of Pong (Atari, 1972)). Similarly, Bowser isn’t too difficult to get past if you choose the right events (the Hammer Throw, in particular, isn’t too taxing as long as you can rotate the 3DS fast enough) but they both get a significant power boost for the game’s final chapter.

Eggman and Bowser get a significant power up from their Phantasmal Fog for the story’s finale.

Here, powered up by the Phantasmal Fog, Bowser and Eggman take on Mario and Sonic in Sprint, 20km Race Walk, Judo, and 100m events. Judo isn’t especially hard (it’s just a question of timing your button presses and being a bit aggressive in your attack) and 100m is fine as long as you charge and release A and can tap the button as fast as possible but both Sprint and 20km Race Walk can crawl into a hole and die. Eventually, after much trial and error, I got Sprint down (ignore the onscreen prompts and don’t move or press anything until you’re sure you can dash past Eggman) but the 20km Race Walk mainly came down to luck.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Being as this is a glorified collection of mini games, there’s not much on offer here; some events have you rapidly tapping A to recover stamina or splashing water on you for the same effect, or touching dash panels for a boost, and many reward a perfect finish with a fancy special flourish but there’s nothing tangible in-game to help increase your chances.

Additional Features:
There are a couple of extra incentives on offer here for repeat and expansive play; first, when you first start the game, you can customise your in-game name, flag, and Badge (which is a nice touch for when you’re playing online, I’m sure). You can also aim to break world records in each event, win bronze, silver, and gold medals, and complete each of the game’s events and story modes to earn tickets and Badges. You can then use these tickets in a ball machine to unlock yet more Badges, all of which can be viewed in the game’s Record Log along with (obviously) your best times and records.

After clearing the game’s story mode, you unlock a few, more challenging bonus episodes.

After you beat the main story campaign, you’ll unlock a series of additional bonus episodes that see you compete as Bowser Jr, Bowser, Metal Sonic, Dr. Eggman, Peach, Blaze, and Amy in some of the toughest challenges yet. Unlike in the Wii version, there are no “Dream Events” to compete in, though you can cobble together custom events to take on both on and offline if you can bring yourself to play a little longer.

The Summary:
When it comes to the Mario & Sonic series, you know what to expect: Olympic-themed mini games involving some of gaming’s most iconic characters. Yet, as inoffensive as these games often are, Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games takes things to the next level by needlessly overcomplicating so many of the events and controls. It’s as though the developers were forced to shoe-horn in everything the 3DS was capable of, which would be fine if there were the option to switch to more traditional controls but, nine times out of ten, there isn’t. Instead, you’re left to fumble about the place, shouting at your 3DS and trying to rotate it while alternating between hitting buttons or drawing on the touch screen and it’s just more frustrating than fun. Because I’m a big Sonic fan, I am kind of duty-bound to own these games wherever possible but I’ve never really been fond of them; I’m sure that for groups of players who like motion controls and unfairly-balanced party games, they’re a lot of fun but it can’t help but feel like Nintendo and SEGA left a lot of money on the table by not also producing a more traditional crossover for their iconic mascots.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

How did you find the 3DS version of Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games? Perhaps you also owned the Nintendo Wii version; if so, which was better, in your opinion? How did you find the game’s motion controls, assortment of games, and story mode? How do you feel about the Mario & Sonic series overall? 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? Either way, feel free to leave a comment below.

Game Corner [Zelda Day]: The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo 3DS)

On 21 February 1986, The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo EAD, 1986) was first released in Japan. The creation of legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, The Legend of Zelda launched one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises, with its silent protagonist, Link, and his vast fantasy world of sword and sorcery not only enduring over time but constantly evolving and improving as the series progressed.

Released: 7 June 2011
Originally Released: 21 February 1986
Developer: Nintendo
Original Developer: Nintendo EAD
Also Available For: Family Computer Disk System (Famicom), Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U

The Background:
The Legend of Zelda was created by designer Shigeru Miyamoto (the man responsible for Nintendo’s popular mascot, Super Mario) and Takashi Tezuka; in fact, Zelda and Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 1985) were developed simultaneously and so, to separate the two games, Zelda was purposely made far less linear and based around both exploration and experimentation, with Miyamoto drawing inspiration from his childhood love of exploring forests and caves. Although players are free to name the game’s protagonist, he was dubbed “Link” to suggest an emotional “link” between the player and their avatar and his story was framed as a “coming of age” tale that would allow the player to grow alongside their silent, but by no means less iconic, game character. The Legend of Zelda was hugely successful for Nintendo, with the game selling well over 6.5 million copies and Nintendo even commissioned a special gold cartridge variant for its North American release. The game was met with universal praise during its release and is still regarded as one of the greatest adventure game of all time. Although I was aware of the franchise thanks to the much-maligned animated series, being a SEGA kid growing up I didn’t play a Zelda title from start to finish until I got The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (ibid, 1993). This was enough to hook me on the franchise, however, which grew to a deep affection thanks, of course, to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (ibid, 1998). The original title, though, had always eluded me so, with this year marking the game’s thirty-fifth anniversary, I figured now was as good a time as any to sit down and give it a go.

The Plot:
The peaceful kingdom of Hyrule is suddenly invaded by the malevolent Ganon (or “Gannon”, as he’s referred to in-game) and his monstrous army. Having already stolen the Triforce of Power, one part of the legendary Triforce, he kidnaps Princess Zelda to acquire the Triforce of Wisdom. However, after she separates the Triforce of Wisdom into eight fragments, it’s up to Link, a plucky young boy from the forest, to journey across the land, recover the Triforce fragments, and put an end to Ganon’s dreams of world conquest.

The Legend of Zelda is a 2D, top-down action/adventure game set in the fantasy land of Hyrule. One of the few NES titles to feature a battery back-up save feature, players can create one of three save files and save their progress whenever they die in the game, which is a necessary feature given how large the game is. Unlike the majority of Zelda games, though, the name you give to your save file isn’t reflected in-game; when you rescue Princess Zelda at the game’s conclusion, she refers to you as “Link” no matter what you title your save file, making this original adventure one of only a handful of Zelda titles to actually use that name to refer to its green-garbed protagonist.

Defeat enemies with your trusty sword, which shoots out beams when you’re at full health.

Once you’ve created your save file, you are immediately dropped into Hyrule and left to fend for yourself. Link moves in a grid-like pattern across the map and comes complete with a shield that will block most enemy projectiles as long as he is facing them. If you enter the cave at the top of the game’s first screen, you’ll acquire a sword, allowing you to dispatch most enemies in one of two ways: the first is a tried-and-tested sword swipe and the second is an energy bolt that fires from your sword as long as you are at full health, which really helps to clear the screen of enemies from a safe distance. Defeated enemies may occasionally drop hearts or fairies to refill your health, bombs to allow you to deal explosive damage to enemies and uncover secret passageways, or Rupees (or “Rupies”/”Rubies”), the in-game currency. Link can hold a maximum of 255 Rupees and will sporadically stumble across merchants hidden in dungeons or caves who will sell him a variety of items, weapons, and power-ups.

The majority of Hyrule and the game’s dungeons are accessible right from the start.

As you might expect from a Zelda title, the game’s overworld is pretty expansive, covering forests, mountains, and beachfronts. A mini map is present in the top-left of the game’s heads-up display (HUD) but, out in the overworld, is next to useless since all you can see is a little green dot (representing you) on a blank, grey background. In dungeons, you can collect a Dungeon Map to make navigation a lot easier but, again, it’s not as helpful as it could be since there’s no distinction between floors, meaning it’s very easy to get lost or turned around or to wander around Hyrule with no idea of where you are or need to go. Your goal in the game is to visit eight dungeons (referred to in the game as “Levels”) and retrieve the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom; you can track your progress towards this goal from the game’s inventory menu and non-playable characters (NPCs) can offer you (extremely) vague hints about how to progress but, otherwise, much of the game’s adventure is in your hands. As a result, pretty much the entirety of Hyrule is available for you to explore and visit as long as you have, at least, some bombs available to you. This means that it’s very easy to wander around the overworld and stumble into the game’s harder dungeons before you’re ready, which can add an additional layer of challenge to the game if you’re brave enough to attempt to tackle these tougher levels out of sequence. It also means that you can acquire some of the game’s more powerful and useful weapons early, at the very least, though some can be useless without others (I, for example, acquired the Book of Magic long before I got the Magic Rod, making said book all but useless).

Zelda‘s dungeons are largely indistinguishable beyond their colour palette and enemy placements.

Given that I played through 90% of this game blind and without a guide, I have to say that that this is all-but-inevitable as, while the game’s first two dungeons are easily found almost right next to each other, it’s entirely up to you to explore your surroundings so it’s pretty easy to stumble into the harder levels when you only have three of four hearts in your health bar. As big as Hyrule is, though, many of the dungeons are actually quite small; inside, you’ll be tasked with defeating enemies and solving very (very) simple puzzles (generally as taxing as pushing a certain block or bombing a certain wall) to open doors, or collect keys to open doors, grabbing a new weapon or item, Dungeon Map and Compass to aid with your navigation within the dungeon, and then defeating a boss to extend your health bar and retrieve a piece of the Triforce of Wisdom. One interesting feature I was surprised to see was that you can carry keys from one dungeon to another, which can give you an edge with the game’s harder dungeons and allow you to take shortcuts here and there. Gameplay follows a very simple formula from start to finish: explore the immediate area, uncover secrets, find a dungeon, and retrieve a piece of the Triforce of Wisdom. The only time the gameplay is changed up is when you descend down hidden staircases inside the dungeons and enter a short 2D area where the level’s weapon or key item can be found. Otherwise, gameplay variety comes from utilising different weapons to battle enemies and bosses or factoring in the erratic patterns of the game’s enemies, who like to attack in something resembling a co-ordinated effort or en masse, requiring both some strategy on your part and a healthy supply of hearts in order to survive the damage put out by the game’s later enemies. As a result, Zelda’s difficulty is, largely, up to you; if you clear Level-1 and then stumble into Level-8, it’s probably best to leave that later dungeon and seek out Level-2 to 3 to give yourself a better chance of success.

Graphics and Sound:
The Legend of Zelda is a very basic 2D adventure; like Super Mario Bros. and many videogames of that era, the graphics are extremely simplistic and, largely, require quite a bit of imagination and suspension of disbelief on the part of the player. Link is immediately and instantly recognisable against the game’s many different backgrounds and compared to the enemy sprites thanks to his green tunic and cute little sword and shield but, obviously, you’re not going to see many frames of animation or layers of detail in this game. Additionally, I found that the game struggled a bit when there were a lot of sprites onscreen and/or sounds playing at the same time; the iconic Zelda theme plays constantly on the overworld and, when Link is low of health, the game emits a constant beeping to inform you and enemies make little noises when they shoot at you or are destroyed and all of these sounds can blend into each other and the game slows down noticeably when a hoard of Lynels incessantly shoot projectiles at you.

Though limited by the hardware of the time, Zelda is a vast and ambitious adventure.

Despite the game’s limited graphical capabilities, Hyrule is surprisingly vast, varied, and detailed at times; the entire land is surrounded by sea that you cannot cross and made up of forests, mountains, beaches, and icy regions. You’ll have to navigate a series of repeating, identical screens in a maze-like puzzle, dodge boulders as they rain down from Death Mountain, explore a haunted graveyard, cross the water using a raft, enter a waterfall, descend into caves, and cross beaches while Leevers randomly pop out at you as you explore looking for merchants, additional items and weapons, and the elusive dungeon entrances. Dungeons are generally recognisable in the overworld but, sometimes, you’ll enter what appears to be a dungeon only to find a merchant or other NCP. When you do find a dungeon, you’ll be treated to a different in-game tune, which is refreshing, but will find that most dungeons are aesthetically very similar just with a different colour palette. Dungeons get progressively bigger as you progress, though, and are filled with more enemies; you’ll also find that you’re required to visit different floors using staircases and bomb walls more frequently to access different areas and properly progress, which adds an additional layer of challenge to the game. Each dungeon also has its own unique layout and appearance as seen on the map screen to help distinguish them but, for the most part, they’re quite similar and not themed around elements like later Zelda dungeons would be.

Zelda uses text and (very) simple and vague dialogue to convey its plot and your objective.

For an adventure game, The Legend of Zelda is extremely light on story and dialogue; the game’s story is told through some text when you wait around on the title screen but, beyond that, you’ll need to read the game’s instruction manual to learn more about the plot and the lore of Hyrule since the NPCs offer only cryptic clues and vague statements. Dialogue and character interaction is practically non-existent in The Legend of Zelda, which I find a bit surprising given how prominent it would become in the series and how heavy it featured in more traditional role-playing games (RPGs) released around the same time, such as Final Fantasy (Square, 1987). However, given the amount of grammatical errors and incongruous dialogue contained within the first Zelda this is, perhaps, a good thing; it also means that the onus is on the player to explore every nook and cranny and to experiment with every weapon on every screen on the game to uncover secrets and new areas, placing an emphasis on exploration and player immersion rather than hand-holding.

Enemies and Bosses:
Link will have to contend with a wide variety of enemies on his grand quest; the overworld is alive with numerous enemies, some of which are specific to certain areas and each of which presents a different challenge thanks to their attack patterns and difficulty. It’s very rare that you’ll take on just one or two enemies at a time and, generally, you’ll have to battle about four or five at once and often a mixture of different enemies, requiring a certain amount of strategy on your part as you can’t always take the direct approach in battle. One of the most common enemies in the game are the Octorocs (octopus-like creatures that spit projectiles at you), Peahats (bulbous vegetation that hover in the air and can only be destroyed when briefly stationary), Tektites (spider-like enemies that hop around the screen), aforementioned Leevers (spiked globs that burrow in and out of sand), and the Keese (bats that flutter around the screen). While you’ll encounter different coloured variants of most of these (and other enemies) that are tougher, these are the most common enemies and are easily dispatched with one sword swing.

Zelda‘s tougher enemies can be a real headache thanks to their numbers and attack patterns.

As you progress, though, you’ll encounter far more formidable enemies: Moblins launch spears at you, Goriyas toss boomerangs your way, Ropes (why they’re not called “snakes” is beyond me) charge at you head-first, and Wallmasters will drag you back to the first screen of the dungeon you’re in if you’re not careful. Some of the game’s toughest and most annoying enemies include the Wizzrobes (who constantly teleport around the screen, often directly into where you’re walking, and fire energy bolts that can easily drain your health if you’re caught in a crossfire), Darknuts (who can only be attacked from behind and wander around in an unpredictable pattern), and the aforementioned Lynels. You’ll also have to be careful about getting too close to seemingly harmless Armos statues in case they spring to life, avoid getting eaten by a Like-Like lest it take away your shield upgrade, and make sure you have plenty of health or arrows to make battling the Poe’s Voice that much easier.

The Dodongo might be pretty pathetic but the Manhandla was a pain in my ass!

The game features nine dungeons to explore, which means nine bosses to contend with; make sure you familiarise yourself with each of these bosses, though, as you’ll encounter all of them on multiple occasions as sub-bosses in the game’s later dungeons. Technically, you can battle them in whatever order you like as long as you’re tough enough to survive the dungeon and their damage output but it’s best to try and take them on in sequential order to give yourself the best chance at success. This means that the first boss you fight should be Aquamentus, a horned dragon that spits out three projectiles that you must dodge between. This boss is fought in Level-1 and Level-7 and is made all the easier if you have the energy to use your sword beam or ammo enough to shoot arrows at it, which will make short work of it. The Dodongo, in comparison, is a pretty pathetic excuse for a boss; it lumbers around the screen doing little to nothing and is easily dispatched by placing bombs before its mouth. Later on, you’ll have to contend with three of these at once but, since they don’t make any effort to attack you, they’re easily the weakest of all the game’s bosses. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the Manhandla boss; this piranha-like bastard was the bane of my life since it popped up three times throughout the quest. It slowly bounces around the arena firing projectiles at you and is very tricky to hit thanks to the limited reach of Link’s depowered sword and Link’s restricted range of movement; it’s much faster and more efficient to use bombs to deal massive, successive damage to the Mandhandla but be wary as, the more parts of it you destroy, the faster its movements become.

Bosses range from frustratingly awkward to ridiculously easy depending on how equipped you are.

One of the toughest bosses in the game, for me, was the multi-headed dragon Gleeok; this monstrosity sports two, three, or four heads, spits projectiles towards you that are difficult to avoid, and is only able to be damaged by awkwardly slashing at its neck or, more effectively, shooting arrows at it. Be careful, though, as when the Gleeok’s heads are severed they will float around the arena shooting projectiles at you and cannot be harmed. Compared to Gleeok, Digdogger and Gohma are a walk in the park, especially once you have acquired the recorder and the bow; Digdogger is completely invulnerable until you play the recorder and reduce it down to its core but, once you do, you can just whack it until it’s defeated. Similarly, Gohma can be a bit of a pain with its sporadic movements and projectiles but a few well-timed shots to its exposed eye will put it away without any real issues; the most difficult thing about many of these bosses is having enough health, the right weapons, and being able to navigate the arena when projectiles are being fired at you from both the boss and the nearby statues.

Despite his fearsome appearance, Ganon is quite a pushover once he’s out in the open.

Of course, the main objective of the game is to assemble the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom, battle through Level-9 (which is accessed by bombing a specific rock formation on Death Mountain and features swarms of the game’s toughest enemies and a new sub-boss, the Patra, which can only be destroyed after first taking care of the tiny little eyes it shields itself with), and confront the evil Ganon. For the final boss of the game, Ganon isn’t that much of a challenge; he turns invisible and fires a series of projectiles at you, forcing you to swipe somewhat blindly around the screen until you hit him. Land four this and he appears in all his monstrous glory…and is easily destroyed with one hit from a Silver Arrow for a disappointingly anticlimactic end to the game.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Link begins the game with three hearts’ worth of health which, very quickly proves to be far too little to get past the game’s tougher enemies and dungeons. Fortunately, every time you defeat a dungeon boss, you expand your maximum hearts by one and can find additional Heart Containers hidden on the overworld or for sale from certain merchants, which will increase it to twenty units. Certain weapons also have similar limitations; for the majority of the game, you can only carry six bombs at a time until stumbling across a merchant who will allow you to carry double that amount (…for a small fee), the only way to get arrows is to buy them, and your usage of the Red Candle is restricted. Thankfully, the Blue Candle and Magic Rod are not so restricted, allowing you to light up dark areas and deal damage to enemies (but watch out because the flame you conjure can also hurt you!)

A number of key items and upgrades will vastly improve your chances at success.

As you might expect from a Zelda title, Link has access to a decent variety of weapons and items: enemies sometimes drop a clock (which causes enemies to freeze in place and gifts Link with invincibility for a brief period), the boomerang allows him to attack from a distance, the stepladder lets him cross one tile of water, the raft allows him to drift across water at certain points on the map, and he can also find a Power Bracelet to move blocks and upgrades for his sword and shield to block more projectiles and deal additional damage. Eventually, you’ll also be able to purchase health-restoring medicines and other expensive items to aid your quest: one such item is a Magic Key that renders all other temporary keys redundant and a piece of food to get past Goriyas (though you’d never know that you need to use this item). You can also buy a Blue Ring and find a Red Ring, both of which significantly reduce the amount of damage you take while also changing Link’s tunic to blue and red, respectively.

Additional Features:
Whereas later Zelda titles placed significant emphasis on a variety of side quests, I only really came across one in this first title (barring the hidden Heart Containers on the overworld) which involved taking a letter from one NPC to another to be able to purchase medicines. After finishing the game, you will unlock the “Second Quest”, which replaces your save file sprite to one of Link holding his sword aloft and overwrites your save file from the beginning but mixes up the locations of dungeons, enemies, and items and also increases the difficulty of the game’s enemies. You can, however, jump straight into this mode by naming for save file “ZELDA” and also make frequent, fragrant, and continuous use of the 3DS version’s save state ability to make beating this difficult and finicky first Zelda title much less of a headache.

The Summary:
After years of hearing so much hype about how good The Legend of Zelda is and having experienced a number of 2D and 3D Zelda titles, I was excited to finally experience the first in the series and, for the most part, The Legend of Zelda lived up to the hype. It’s definitely a product of its time and suffer somewhat from the limitations of the NES hardware and the simplistic graphics, gameplay, and sound but it’s still an ambitious little action/adventure title that was both offering something unique at a time largely dominated by space shooters and platformers. Everything on offer in The Legend of Zelda was expanded upon and improved as the series progressed but, for this first entry, the player is required to utilise a lot of exploration, experimentation, and utilise the bare minimum of information to find the pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom. I went in mostly blind and did okay, for the most part, and only had to turn to a guide for the last two dungeons and to track down a couple of the game’s more elusive items so it’s definitely do-able but the game is handicapped somewhat by this format since it’s very easy to just get lost and end up wandering around in circles or being absolutely bludgeoned by the game’s tougher enemies. Honestly, I have nothing but respect for those who managed to get through this game back in the day without the benefit of save states since it’s a deceptively tough title, one that I’m sure kept many kids busy for many hours or even days with its vast landscape and tricky bosses.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on The Legend of Zelda? Did you own this on the NES back in the day or did you, perhaps, discover it later on a different console? How do you feel it holds up these days, especially against later Zelda titles? Which Zelda game, character, or dungeon is your favourite and why? Would you like to see a return to the top-down style of gameplay for Zelda or do you prefer to more action-orientated, open world approach? How are you celebrating The Legend of Zelda’s debut today? Whatever your thoughts, memories, or opinions of The Legend of Zelda, and the Zelda franchise overall, feel free to drop a comment below and check in next Sunday for more Zelda content.

Game Corner: Wario Land 3 (Nintendo 3DS)

Released: 2 May 2012
Originally Released: 21 March 2000
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Also Available For: Game Boy Color

The Background:
After his debut in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (ibid, 1992) Mario’s dastardly doppelgänger, Wario, quickly usurped Nintendo’s portly plumber as the face of Mario’s handheld sub-series. After the critical and commercial success of Wario Land II (ibid, 1998), Wario’s adventures continued on the Game Boy Color, a long-awaited colour upgrade to Nintendo’s popular handheld console. Wario Land 3 continued the tradition of expanding upon its predecessors, featuring far more emphasis on backtracking, exploration, and experimentation and would be the last in the series to release before Nintendo released the technically-superior Game Boy Advance console. Still, Wario Land 3 was a much-lauded success upon release and was eventually brought to the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console some twelve years after its debut, which is the version I’ll be looking at today.

The Plot:
After Wario’s plane crash lands in a dense forest, he stumbles upon a mysterious cave and is sucked into a magical music box . An enigmatic hidden figure beseeches Wario to find five other music boxes to free him from his imprisonment and, excited at the prospect of finding more rare treasure, Wario dutifully sets out to satiate his lust for riches.

Like its predecessors, Wario Land 3 is a sidescrolling action/platformer in which players take control of Wario, Mario’s mischievous and greedy lookalike. As in Wario Land II, Wario is functionally immortal; though he takes significant knockback from enemy attacks, he cannot ever be killed and faces no consequences for being attacked except being knocked from a platform or into another hazard. As a result, the player never needs to worry about replenishing Wario’s health or lives or being penalised for being attacked as long as they are patient enough to climb back up to where they were when they were knocked back.

Wario needs to re-learn some of his patented and basic abilities from the last games.

Wario begins the game noticeably less capable than in previous titles; he can still jump (shocking, I know!) and can barge into enemies with a shoulder charge but he can no longer pick up enemies and throw them…at least, not from the start. Instead, Wario must find power-ups in coloured treasure chests hidden throughout the game’s many levels to reacquire many of his usual skills, such as the butt stomp and the ability to pick up and throw enemies. Wario can, however, still roll into a ball when pressing down on a slope or coming off a zip-line to pass through narrow passageways.

Loot treasure from chests and use key items to expand the world map.

The main objective of the game is to visit each of the twenty-five levels found at each compass point on the overworld; each one contains four coloured keys and four chests of the same colour which house treasures, power-ups, and key items. Wario must collect each one to open up new areas of the overworld and progress further; this means that each level must be revisited multiple times with Wario’s new abilities and new areas opened up with the treasures and each compass point will only be fully accessible once all treasures have been collected.

Wario’s mysterious guide will help keep him on track when levels change and open up.

This makes the game much bigger and more confusing than even its predecessor, which featured branching story paths depending on the choices you made during gameplay; here, you constantly have to backtrack to old levels in order to open up new ones and, sometimes, key items will affect multiple levels at once. Thankfully, Wario can return to the mysterious figure in the Temple at any point for a hint on which level to go to, though it’s up to the player to figure out what’s changed in that level or which of Wario’s new abilities needs to be used to progress. The game’s overworld is split between the four compass points (North, South, East, and West) and Wario can quickly travel to each one by pressing the “Select” button on the overworld. From here you can also check on which treasures you have acquired, reactivate key items to remind yourself of where to go, and, eventually, trigger the game’s day and night cycle (which, otherwise, automatically switches to one or the other every time you finish a level, with the time of day also affecting the levels in certain ways).

You’ll need all the Coins you can find to beat the annoying golfing mini games.

Within each level, you can also find a number of Coins, including eight large Musical Coins; unlike previous games, though, the amount of Coins you have doesn’t affect the game’s ending and Wario’s capacity is capped at 999 Coins. Instead, Wario uses Coins to play a number of hidden golf mini games found in each level, which is necessary to open previously blocked paths and find more keys and chests. The golf mini games help to break up the gameplay a bit but is needlessly frustrating when you first play it since you’re not really given any direction on what to do. Basically, by moving the screen to the right, you can see where Wario’s shot will land on the field; you need to press A and then quickly press it again when the slider reaches a power level high enough to avoid getting stuck in water, lava, or the rough grass and then quickly press it again when it hits the blue area of the slider to take your shot. You get four shots at hitting the Para-Goom and, if you fail to sink it in the goal, you’ll have to pay some more Coins to try again. When I first played this, I was frustrated by the finicky controls and vague directions but, once you play it a couple of times, it’s not so hard to get the timing down and the 3DS’s save state feature really helps speed the process up.

Wario’s “Reactions” will allow him to find more treasure and reach new areas.

As in the previous game, Wario can still change forms when hit with certain attacks; these will briefly alter Wario in strange and amusing ways to help him break through previously impassable blocks, reach higher areas, or pass through small spaces and figuring out how to use these different transformations (or “Reactions”, as the game calls them) is key to finding all the keys, chests, and Musical Coins. When in a level, you can also save your progress at any time, see which keys you currently hold, which chests you’ve opened, how many Musical Coins you’ve collected, and even return to the overworld map all with an appreciated ease.

Wario Land 3 is made more difficult by all the backtracking and winding paths.

Compared to the last two Wario Land games, Wario Land 3 is much more difficult and time consuming; thanks to the abundance of backtracking and vague hints, it can be very difficult to know where you need to go and what you need to do. Thus, you are encouraged to experiment; if you see something blocking your path, try using all of Wario’s abilities as some will affect the obstacle or possibly even destroy it. When exploring a level for the first time, try to take note of your surroundings and out of reach areas as you may need to return later with different abilities to access these parts of the level, and be sure to visit the Temple if you ever forget the levels your key items have affected or opened up. For the most part, though, I found Wario Land 3 best played in short bursts of about an hour or so tackling each level in turn as they opened up or changed rather than trying to slog through it in extended sittings, which may have contributed to my more annoying experiences with the game as it never seemed to end.

Graphics and Sound:
Wario Land 3 was easily the best looking entry in the series at that point; thanks to being made exclusively for the Game Boy Color, the game is full of bright, vibrant colours that really pop out at you. While Wario is actually a little more subdued in his colouration, appearing almost monochrome, this actually helps him to stand out against the colourful backgrounds and, as you’d expect, he’s full of life and character, falling asleep if left idle for too long and scratching his butt when left halfway up a ladder.

Levels are more varied, detailed, and colourful than ever and change as you progress.

There is a lot of level variety on offer in Wario Land 3; each compass point of the map is home to at least six different levels and, rather than each compass point having a fixed theme, every level looks different and has different gimmicks contained within. You’ll explore standard platforming levels such as forests, deserts, volcanoes, and ice levels but also explore ruins, swamps, towns, castles, and caves. Each one has at least two different colour palettes thanks to the day/night cycle and, though they start off relatively small and restrictive, each one is quite large, with many different layers and areas to explore as you gain new abilities and affect the overworld.

Story has more emphasis and is told through little cutscenes that even include some dialogue.

Wario Land 3 has a bit more emphasis on story this time around, with short cutscenes playing whenever Wario acquires a new item to show how it has affected the overworld map. When you find new power-ups, a short tutorial will play showing you how to use Wario’s new ability (which can be revisited at any time from the pause menu) and there are a few instances of dialogue, primarily from the hidden figure, to relay the game’s simple plot. As you’d expect from a Mario/Wario title, the soundtrack is suitably chirpy and catchy, though I can’t say that it really made much of a lasting impression on me.

Enemies and Bosses:
Since the game’s plot does not involve the Black Sugar Gang this time around, you’re faced with a whole slew of all-new enemies, many of which behave very similar to those from the last two games. Accordingly, you’ll come across spear-wielding Spearhead’s who will prick you with their sharp weapons, Para-Gooms who descend from the air and shield themselves with spiked umbrellas, puffer fish-like Haridamas which sprout spikes when they get close, and annoying birds that fly across the screen and stun you but can make for a boost to higher areas if you can time your jump correctly.

Wario Land 3 moves away from pirates and doubles down on wacky, annoying enemies.

You’ll also come up against a bunch of enemies that will change Wario’s form with their attacks or abilities; Appleby and Doughnuteers throw delicious apples and doughnuts your way, Fire Robota’s spout flames, Hammer-bots relentlessly try to squash you with their giant hammers, floating jellyfish try to sting you, and Zombies constantly spring out when it’s most inconvenient to hurl their heads at you. For the most part, these enemies are placed in or near areas where you’ll need the accompanying Reaction to progress further but, equally as often, they’re simply placed to be annoying so if you don’t need a specific transformation be sure to avoid them.

Timing is key to getting past the bosses and to avoid being expelled from the boss arenas.

Wario has a tough battle ahead of him this time around as he must battle eleven different bosses in his quest for the five magical boxes; because of the nature of the game, though, it’s entirely possible to battle these bosses out of order depending on what abilities you have and key items you’ve found, which can mix up subsequent playthroughs of the game. With the exception of the final boss, each of Wario Land 3’s bosses requires three hits to defeat and, like in the last game, each one will expel you from the boss arena if you get hit or mess up, changes up their attack patterns as the fight progresses, and requires quite a bit of skill on your part to defeat. The Doll Boy, for example, sits atop a totem pole tossing hammers at you; you must avoid these and destroy his totem pole to bring him down to ground level then frantically avoid his hammer swings to jump on his head and finish him off with a shoulder barge. Similarly, Wormwould pops out of the ground to spit rocks at you that will send you tumbling off the platform if they hit you so you need to use your ground pound on his head before he gets the chance.

Often, the direct approach is insufficient to defeat Wario Land 3‘s bosses.

Each boss is unique and requires different strategies to get around their attacks; Wolfenboss has to be knocked out of the air by ricocheting a Kuri at the right angle, for example, while Mudee is fought while you’re clinging to a net and requires you to time a ground pound onto its body while avoiding its spiked tail. Anonster, meanwhile, can only be brought down to ground level by throwing its own web balls up at it, which can be tricky because it’s hard to judge the angle of your throw.

Pesce and Shoot were two of the game’s more frustrating and and time-consuming bosses.

Some bosses are more unique and frustrating than others, though: Jamano plunges the arena into darkness, forcing you to quickly navigate around the small area hitting four skulls to bring the exorcising light and Wario needs to avoid Helio’s infectious stings and ground pound a pump to inflate and explode the boss. Easily the two most frustrating bosses, for me, though were Pesce and Shoot; Pesce, a weird rat/piranha hybrid, can only be defeated by poisoning it with mouldy cheese but it’s really tricky to time the dropping of the cheese so the damn thing actually eats it. Shoot is similar to Dunk from Wario Land II in that you must beat him at a ball-based game, in this case football. You need to avoid being squashed by Shoot but it’s not made clear exactly how you’re supposed to smash him into the goal; the easiest way I found was to lure him near to the goal (but not too near) and then barge him when he’s bouncing in the air as I could never get him into the goal when the goalie was stunned by a ground pound.

Wario’s final challenge is a gigantic, demonic clown that is actually capable of killing him.

After finding all five musical boxes, Wario returns to the hidden figure, who reveals himself to be a demonic clown entity and the game’s final boss. This is the only time in the game that you can get a game over as Wario will instantly be defeated if the clown grabs a hold of him. You need to jump over, or duck under, his hands and stun his fists with a ground pound and then jump and throw the fist into the clown’s face four times to win. Honestly, the most difficult part of this boss was getting the timing of my attacks and jumps right as his fists swing at you pretty fast and it’s easy to lose your grip on the stunned hand if you’re not fast enough.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned before, Wario can acquire upgrades for his abilities and relearn classic skills from various treasure boxes. This includes an upgrade to his shoulder attack and ground pound to break through tougher blocks, being able to charge up an enemy before throwing it to throw it higher and further, the ability to swim (and then swim through currents), smashing objects from below, and performing a high jump by pressing up and jump at the same time.

Many of Wario’s Reactions return from Wario Land II and function in the same way.

Wario also assumes a number of different forms upon being hit with certain attacks or encountering certain hazards. Many of these return from Wario Land II, such as Fat Wario (who destroy enemies by touching them and can smash through special blocks), Fire Wario (who, after running around with his butt on fire for a while, eventfully becomes engulfed in flames to break through special blocks), Flat Wario (who is small enough to squeeze through tiny gaps but extremely difficult to control, with the game forcing you to desperately try and float him through gaps in vertical areas), Zombie Wario (who passes through thin platforms when jumping on them), and Puffy Wario (who relentlessly float upwards until he hits a ceiling or block).

A lot of Wario’s new Reactions are more of a hindrance than a benefit.

You can also become Ice Skatin’ Wario when frozen (more of a hindrance than a help), Snowball and Ball o’ String Wario to become an unstoppable ball and break through special blocks, Bouncy Wario (helpful to reach high areas but difficult to control), Bubble Wario (which can let you pass through directional currents to reach goodies but is often just an annoying hazard), Invisible Wario to get past Seeing-eye Doors, and Vampire Wario. This last one is pretty cool as you become a Dracula-type figure and can turn into a vampire bat by pressing B and fly up to new areas but, since this latter mechanic is the only useful thing about this Reaction, I’m not sure why Wario doesn’t just become a bat by default.

Additional Features:
There are one hundred treasures to find in Wario Land 3; you’ll need all of Wario’s abilities and certain key items to find them all as some are not only hidden in previous levels but also in hidden levels on the overworld map. Thankfully, you don’t need to find them all to complete the game and you don’t get a different ending for having them all but collecting all one hundred does unlock a time attack mode. There are also, as mentioned, eight large Musical Coins to be found in each level; collecting all of these opens up a fourth golf mini game if you just can’t get enough of that particular gem. Of course, if you’re playing the 3DS version of the game, you can also make liberate, unapologetic use of the save state system to make the game a little easier on yourself.

The Summary:
Wario Land 3 really surprised me; I kind of expected the series to get a bit simpler as it progressed but, if anything, the Land sub-series just got bigger and more ambitious as it went on. This is easily the biggest of this sub-series both in terms of graphics and its scope which is great for a classic handheld title and I can’t fault the game for being packed full of content but…man, is this a long, convoluted game. Wario Land 3 really kicked my ass as I went into it expecting quick, easy, pick-up-and-play gameplay and was, instead, forced to constantly backtrack and explore all over the game’s vast overworld and numerous levels. This was great for expanding the depth and range of the sub-series and makes for an addictive and engaging handheld experience; I tried to limit my play time to short bursts of a few hours or so but often found myself getting sucked into the game as I tried to track down one more treasure chest or unlock one more level for my next session.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever played Wario Land 3 before? How did you find it compared to the other Wario Land videogames? Were you a fan of how big the game was and its emphasis on backtracking and exploration or did you find it maybe to be a bit too ambitious for its own good? What are your thoughts on Wario as a character and his wacky sub-series? Would you like to see more of him and his unique gameplay mechanics or do you think he’s better suited as a side character relegated to mini games? Whatever thoughts you have on Wario and Wario Land 3, feel free to drop a comment below.