Game Corner [Mario Month]: New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Nintendo Switch)

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

Released: 11 January 2019
Originally Released: 18 November 2012
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Original Developer: Nintendo EAD
Also Available For: Nintendo Wii U (Standard Edition)

The Background:
After the videogame industry crumbled following an influx of numerous overpriced consoles and mediocre titles, Nintendo pretty much single-handedly saved the industry with the runaway success of Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 1985) and, following the “Console Wars” of the mid-nineties, Nintendo and their famous mascot continued to be an innovative and reliable staple of the videogame industry. After a successful venture into the third dimension resulted in some of Mario’s most beloved titles, Nintendo decided to return Mario to his roots with the release of New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 2006) on the Nintendo DS, a 2.5D title that spruced up the platformer’s classic sidescrolling gameplay with new features and modes and which proved to be a hit. Two follow-ups soon followed, one for the Nintendo Wii and one for the 3DS, with both receiving high praise for their multiplayer functionality and addictive gameplay mechanics, and the development of a further follow-up for Nintendo’s unfortunate Wii U console soon began. The first Super Mario title to feature high-definition graphics, New Super Mario Bros. U was designed specifically with the Wii U GamePad in mind and emphasised single-player vertical exploration. The game was highly praised and sold over 4.8 million units; as part of the 2013 to 2014 “Year of Luigi” campaign, an expansion pack was created as both a separate physical release and downloadable content which featured shorter, tougher levels and focused on Luigi’s unique playstyle. After Nintendo bounced back in the home console market with the Nintendo Switch and achieved great success with Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EPD, 2017), this enhanced port of the game was developed for the console; containing all previously released material, and some additional features, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe was also met with positive reviews and become one of the best-selling games for the Switch.

The Plot:
Bowser, King of the Koopas, and his children (Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings) invade Princess Peach’s castle and hold her hostage, flinging Mario, Luigi, and two Toads far away. The portly plumber and his friends then resolve to travel across the land, defeating Bowser’s minions along the way, in order to rescue Peach and restore her castle to normal.

Like the classic Super Mario games of the bygone 8- and 16-bit days, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is a sidescrolling platformer but, in the style of the New Super Mario Bros. subseries, it’s a 2.5D title. The game allows up to four players to team up and travel across eight colourful, whimsical Worlds, hopping across platforms and on enemy’s heads in their quest to defeat Bowser’s minions. Each of the five playable characters controls a little differently and has slightly different power-ups and mechanics tied to them, meaning that the game’s difficulty is directly tied to which character you pick (Mario is an all-rounder, for example, while Luigi has poor traction, and Nabbit cannot be harmed by any enemies, making him the default “Very Easy” mode of the game). Each character has their own set of lives, but shares any collectibles they find along the way, and you can easily revisit and replay previous Worlds with whichever character you like from the overworld screen and the submenu. As is also the style of these kinds of Super Mario games, the controls are as simple as you could want: by default, the A and B buttons allow you to jump and you can hold the X and Y buttons to run, though you can swap these two sets of controls around if you like. Jumping three times in succession, especially while running, will allow you to pull off a triple jump to reach higher areas. When jumping, you can kick off walls to wall jump higher or potentially save yourself from falling down a pit (though you’re just as likely to accidentally wall jump off a platform or block and die if you’re not careful), press down to perform a block-smashing butt stomp, or press A, B, L, or R to perform a little twirl for a bit of extra height. You can also climb up and down ladders, press down when on a slope to slide down and kick any enemies out of your path, and tap the jump buttons when underwater to swim along. X and Y can also be used to hold certain items or characters, such as a Koopa shell or a Baby Yoshi, and you can release the button to throw these at enemies or to collect out of reach Coins.

Play alongside your friends with five different playable characters, each with slightly different mechanics.

Jumping, however, remains your primary method of attacking enemies; with well-timed jumps, you can clear gaps and entire sections of the game using the triple jump and gaining extra height by bouncing off an enemy’s head, but it pays to not be too complacent as some enemies either can’t be defeated by jumping on them or will hurt you if you try. Similarly, other enemies can only be dispatched by jumping at the blocks or platforms beneath them to either knock them off or tip them over, and you’ll also want to make use of the game’s many different power-ups and suits to help take out enemies faster. By default, each character begins the game with five lives and in their base form; this means that one hit will kill you, so be sure to search out a Super Mushroom or similar power-up as soon as possible to gain an extra hit point. When playing as Toadette, the Super Crown will transform her into “Peachette”, allowing her to float and double jump just like Princess Peach is known to do, while Nabbit doesn’t actually power-up from any of the items (but is immune to damage to compensate). When playing, you’re battling against a time limit, which alerts you when it counts down to the last 100 seconds and speeds the game’s music up accordingly to help push you forward. As if this, and the high number of hazards and projectiles you’ll eventually face, wasn’t bad enough, you also have to keep an eye out for the bevy of bottomless pits, which eventually expand to cover the majority of the ground in later Worlds. Handy checkpoints placed within Worlds will power you up and allow for a respawn point, but you still get kicked out of the World and have to manually re-enter, in your base form, to try again. Fail enough times and a “Super Guide” block will appear to help show you how to succeed, but the World will be flagged as incomplete until you finally reach that flagpole unassisted by this mechanic. Your main objective, unsurprisingly, is to head to the right of the screen, jumping over pits, hopping to platforms and blocks, and taking out any enemies in your way to reach the flagpole. Along the way, you’ll contend with such hazards as fog-spewing clouds, rising and falling platforms, swaying mushrooms, giant toppling heads, cannons, temporary platforms, and plumes of both water and sand.

There’s plenty of variety, and challenge, awaiting in the game’s different Worlds.

While gameplay is, by the nature of its presentation, quite linear, there are opportunities for exploration; paths are hidden behind the background, leading to Coins and blocks, you can spawn vines to reach upper platforms, and you can enter pipes to explore underground areas, again usually for Coins or to find one of the three Star Coins hidden in each World. Sometimes, you can wall jump beyond the boundaries of the screen to take shortcuts or reach Secret Exits, which create new paths (or bypass Worlds entirely) on the overworld map so you can reach the Koopaling’s castle for that World. Some Worlds feature autoscrolling sections, either horizontally or vertically, that force you to stay on the move to keep from being crushed or boiled by rising lava, and, after clearing World 2, the game will ask you to choose a path to tackle either World 3 or World 4 (though you can, and absolutely should, backtrack to play both of these Worlds regardless). These Worlds add a new wrinkle to the overworld map in the form of the haunted locations (usually mansions, but there’s a shipwreck, too) infested with Boos. Boos will only advance towards you when your back is turned, and these stages tend to feature confusing door mazes, temporary platforms formed by hitting P Switches to turn Coins into blocks, and light-based mechanics where you need to carry a Baby Yoshi to light the way and scare off Boos. Other Worlds favour tilting platforms, slippery ground, an abundance of pits and crushing hazards, and you’ll even find yourself jumping to and swimming in bubbles when progressing vertically through World 7. You’ll also have to watch out for bigger enemy variants, instant-death lava and poison, and weighted platforms that either require you to jump to keep them moving or will stop if too many enemies and items drift onto them. There’s a lot of fun, colourful variety on offer and your platforming and jumping skills will be progressively put to the test as you clear each World, with more and more hazards and gimmicks being thrown in your path; thankfully, the controls are tight and responsive enough to manage these, but it’s true that the jumping can tend to be a bit spotty at times and you can easily find yourself slipping off a platform or falling to your death when you didn’t mean to.

Graphics and Sound:
I’d played New Super Mario Bros. before, so I was well aware of how great Mario and his Worlds look in 2.5D but New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is absolutely gorgeous to behold; Mario, Luigi, and their friends have never looked better in 2.5D thanks to the Switch’s high-definition graphics, with each of them sporting cute idle animations and victory poses when finishing a World. This emphasis on adorable character models and animations even carries through to the enemies, who still hop and dance to the jaunty themes playing in the Worlds to not only give you an opening to attack but also to allow you to better time your jumps or anticipate enemy movements. As is often the case, there’s no spoken dialogue in the game and the characters largely rely on gibberish and pantomime and simple cries of “Yahoo!” and “Oh, no!” to make their point, which is fine by me, though you will encounter non-playable Toads who will offer encouragement, power-ups, and challenge you to mini games in their houses. There can often be a lot happening on the screen at any one time, between the enemies, moving platforms, obscured paths, and projectiles, but everything pops out and has a discernible pattern and it’s simply a matter of skill and timing to overcome the obstacles in your way.

The game shines in its visuals, making for probably the best looking 2.5D Super Mario title yet.

Similarly, the Worlds on offer here are just as vibrant and visually interesting as the character models; there’s a lot to see in the background and foreground, often to tease you into taking a risk on a hidden path or entice you into trying a different power-up to make a tricky jump. While the Worlds are pretty standard Super Mario fare, ranging from colourful fields to snowy landscapes and lava-ridden castles, there’s also some fun throwbacks to previous Mario games, like Soda Jungle (which features retracting vines, rotating logs over poisonous water, and enlarged enemies and blocks), and the haunted houses. You’ll also traverse a desert full of quicksand, shifting sand, and statues to jump from, a beach-front and coral reef where jets of water blast you along underwater, tricky jumps to chains and up and across the rocky landscape of the mines, and a whimsical but taxing trip through the clouds. Every World also features two castles, which adopt an ominous stone-and-magma aesthetic and feature crushing blocks, buzzsaws, and rotating platforms, and you’ll also have to endure a cannonball and Bob-omb filled obstacle course when whisked onto Bowser’s battleship.

Enemies and Bosses:
The vast majority of the enemies you’ll encounter in New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe are returning baddies from previous other Super Mario videogames, such as the mushroom-like Goombas, green and red Koopas, Boos, Thwomps, Chain Chomps, Bullet and Banzai Bills (which are frequently invulnerable), Piranha Plants, and Monty Moles. Most of these are pretty harmless, wandering back and forth or in easily recognisable patterns, but they quickly fill up the screen in larger numbers and some of the more annoying enemies, like the Hammer Bros (and their fire, ice, and boomerang variants) and Dry Bones, can cause headaches with their arching projectiles and ability to respawn, respectively. Naturally, there are also some new enemies in the game as well, such as the squirrel-like Waddlewings (which often carry Super Acorns for your consumption), walrus-like Flipruses, the screen-filling Dragoneel, homing Targeting Teds, and the mischievous Nabbit, who steals Toad’s items and must be captured in a race against the clock in previous Worlds.

A number of mini bosses will constantly return to oppose you, changing size and tactics each time.

In addition to the seven bosses you’ll encounter, you’ll also have to contend with a couple of mini bosses along the way. Not only will your platforming skills be tested if you choose to go back and capture Nabbit (and you really should, if only to get him off the overworld and get his items), but six of the Worlds include a tower guarded by Boom Boom, a muscular Koopa who is afforded new abilities by Kamek as the game progresses. Primarily, Boom Boom will attack by flailing his pythons at you, either in a charge or a jumping, spinning attack, but he also grows in size and sprouts wings to dive down at you. While the arena you battle him in is often altered by cosmetic changes befitting the World (such as water and lava), the area you fight him in is never really a hazard and it’s actually beneficial to use the walls to get better height and bop him on the head three times, which is usually easier to do than with the Koopalings since Boom Boom doesn’t attack while protected by his shell. In World 6, the tower is defended by a Sumo Bro who is enlarged by Kamek; this hulking brute can’t be attacked from above and causes electrical shockwaves by stomping his feet, and can stun you with his jumps. To defeat him, you need to jump into the platform he’s standing on while beneath him to tip him onto his shell and then jump on his exposed belly three times to put him away. World 7’s tower is guarded by Kamek himself, who magically spawns in blocks containing enemies. You can hop around on these to try and jump on his head when he teleports in, but he’ll cause them to rain down and hurt you, or release their captives, and he also flings magical bolts at you that cause the ground to become temporarily unstable. Sticking to a set pattern and staying off the floor is your best chance at winning this battle, and it’s not too difficult to jump on his head when he teleports in nearby. You’ll also battle Bowser Jr. one-on-one twice in the game, once after clearing World 5 and then again after World 7. You need to traverse the cannons of Bowser’s battleship to reach him, and both battles are a little different. In the first, you’re underwater and must lure the Targeting Teds into his craft while avoiding the Bullet Bills that fire horizontally and vertically through the arena. The second battle is much tougher; you’re on a precarious metal-blocked platform and Bowser Jr. floats just out of reach, occasionally tossing Bob-ombs at you. His craft sports boxing gloves which can wreck and temporarily destroy the ground beneath you, or extend to shove you right off edge, but you can quickly hop on his head as he passes by or run up them to bonk him if you’re fast enough. Bowser Jr. also causes trouble in World 8, ramming into you, blocks, and platforms to try and hurt, kill, and force you into lava and also joins his father for the finale.

The Koopaling’s each guard a castle filled with death traps and have some tricks of their own to slow you down.

Before you can reach that climatic battle, however, you have to contend with the seven Koopalings, each of whom awaits after clearing a castle filled with death traps and hazards, and each of them will erratically spin at you in their spiked shells after you land a hit, which can be tricky to avoid. First up is Lemmy Koopa, who tosses progressively larger bombs at you, though you can hop onto these for an extra bit of hang time. Morton Koopa Jr. awaits in World 2 and knocks segments of a giant, caterpillar-like Pokey at you from across the arena that you need to jump over or duck under. This battle’s made a little tougher thanks to Morton shaking the ground with his stomps and the two gaping holes to a bottomless pit at either side of the platform, though you can use the walls to help avoid the Pokey projectiles. After this, you have a choice of your next destination; I chose to visit World 3 first so I battled Larry Koopa next; this pint-sized sucker fires bolts from his magic wand and can be tricky to hit thanks to the three water jets that burst up from the arena floor. The arena is similarly against you when you visit World 4, as Wendy Koopa skates about on the slippery ice and causes icicles to drop from the ceiling. The only way to reach Iggy Koopa is to find the Secret Exit in World 5; this leads you to one of the more troublesome boss battles as Iggy constantly runs away through the pipes, appearing on the floor and the ceiling, and fires bolts at you that can also cause up to two large Magmaarghs to pop up. His shell attack is also a pain as he’ll reverse direction, which can catch you off-guard and result in a hit, but once you figure out which pipe leads him to where you can anticipate his movements and hit him accordingly. Roy Koopa is a pretty simple and enjoyable fight; he fires Bullet Bills from a bazooka and hops up onto the stream of floating platforms to evade you, which means there’s a fall hazard in play here, but I found this the easiest boss of them all as you can just hop on his head, take the high ground, and instantly repeat without him getting off another shot. Finally, there’s Ludwig von Koopa, who hovers at the top of the arena, duplicating himself and filling the screen with diagonal projectiles that can be tough to avoid. Naturally, you need to hop on the head of the real Ludwig to score a hit, and the projectiles only increase with each successful blow.

After making it through the lava-filled final World, you’ll have a face off against a gigantic version of Bowser.

Finally, after beating all the other Worlds and crashing Bower’s airship, you’ll dispel the dark cloud surrounding Peach’s Castle and tackle the final, most aggravating World of the game. The once lush and verdant castle has been transformed into a stony, lava-filled hellhole; flaming meteors fall from the sky, lava rises and falls beneath your feet, and you must not only cross the sea of burning magma on a raft but also watch out for Bowser Jr.’s attempts to crush and boil you alive. Succeed, and you’ll reach the final battle, which begins familiarly enough with you ducking under and jumping over fireballs spat by the Koopa King himself. When faced with Bowser, you’ll need to jump over or duck under his fireballs and quickly run underneath him to hit the switch and cause the bridge beneath him to collapse, but this is only the appetiser to the game’s true finale. Enlarged by Kamek’s magic and joined by Bowser Jr., Bowser battles you to the end on the castle rooftop, again spitting high and low fireballs and jumping about the place. To defeat him, you need to dodge Bowser Jr.’s Bob-ombs and hop on his head after avoiding his craft slam; you can then commandeer the Junior Clown Car with B, tapping B to hover over Bowser’s head, and then hit R to crash onto him. Like his kids, Bowser becomes a spinning dervish after he’s hurt and you’ll need to run under his shell when you get the chance to avoid being hurt or killed, and then dodge the rain of fireballs he spits into the air to repeat the same cycle over, dodging more Bob-ombs and fireballs as you go but, as long as you have at least a Super Mushroom and are mindful of your jumps and hit box, this shouldn’t be too difficult to do.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Many of Mario’s most famous power-ups are here for the taking, including the Super Mushroom, 1-Up Mushroom (with extra lives also awarded with every 100 Coins you collect), Super Stars, and Fire and Ice Flowers. Super Stars are rare in the Worlds themselves but endlessly helpful as they make you invincible for a short time (and speed you up and add a nifty somersault to your jump) and successfully defeating a bunch of enemies in a row in this state will net you an extra life, but it won’t protect you from instant death hazards, unfortunately. The Fire and Ice Flowers let you shoot off a bouncing projectile with X or Y, with the iceballs temporarily freezing enemies to create platforms or allow you to throw them. Other power-ups include the Mini Mushroom, which grants you a moon jump, the ability to run up walls and enter tiny pipes, but costs you your ability to actually defeat enemies. POW Blocks will defeat all onscreen enemies, the aforementioned Super Crown lets Toadette become Peachette, and you can also hover through the sky with the Propeller Mushroom or slide along the ground or water (and fire off iceballs) with the Penguin Suit.

There are plenty of fun power-ups, old and new, to help you in your whimsical journey.

If you can knock Lakitu out of the sky, you can briefly take control of his cloud to fly over stages, and you’ll also come across the new Super Acorn power-up, which transforms you into a flying squirrel and allows you to glide, cling to walls, and perform an arch to gain a little extra height. You can also win P-Acorns from the various mini games which allow you to mid-air jump indefinitely, and you’ll find Yoshi eggs hidden in blocks throughout the game. Yoshis come in four styles, the regular green (which you ride as normal, using his tongue to eat and spit out enemies, chow down fruit for power-ups, and make use of his flutter jump to reach higher areas), and three Baby Yoshis: magenta (which swells up into a balloon to help you bypass hazards), blue (which spits out bubbles), and yellow (which can light up dark and/or haunted areas). Each of these baby Yoshis will also automatically eat up any enemies or projectiles that come your way and can be throw, but it’s usually better to keep them in hand. Every now and then, a Toad will offer you a power-up at the end of a World, and you can play mini games in their houses to collect Coins and earn more power-ups (though you’ll lose out if you get a Bowser tile), and you’ll also find power-ups on the overworld on occasion, too.

Additional Features:
There are 246 Star Coins to find in New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, three in every World, and collecting them will really test your patience and platforming skills as they can be well hidden or hanging in precarious positions. When you finish the game as any character, you’ll unlock the ability to save at any time on the overworld (previously, the game saved after towers and castles and you could only create a one-time save point), the Secret Island (a kind of pointless overworld inclusion that lets you view the credits and various other in-game records, and the Superstar Road. This is where those Star Coins will come into play as you can unlock eight new challenge stages by collecting every Star Coin in each of the game’s other worlds, which is easier said than done. Accomplishing all this adds another Star Stamp to your save file, which allows you to brag that you’ve finished the game to 100%, though finishing the game as the other characters doesn’t factor into this achievement. There are also some alternative paths on the overworld beyond the Secret Exits where moving to certain points causes you to collide with enemies and be warped to a special challenge (usually involving the Super Star) or be automatically taken to different Worlds.

New Super Luigi U adds a whole new level of challenge and difficulty to the game.

Being as it’s the most complete version of the game available, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe also features the New Super Luigi U content, which excises Mario from the playable roster, expands upon Luigi’s controls and physics to make him slippery and light as all hell, and reduces both the length and time limit of each World. Worlds are also full of references to Luigi, from statues to sprite work and silhouettes and an abundance of green, as well as being restructured into bite-size obstacle courses that will offer the greatest challenge of the game by far. With checkpoints gone and hazards everywhere, it’ll take every bit of skill and precision jumping to best this mode, which pushes you to use your triple jump, loose physics, and the game’s power-ups in new ways to bop off enemies, avoid death traps and hazards, and reach the goal flag. The game also offers a few additional challenge modes, including time trials and speed runs, Coin collections, and 1-Up collections, all of which deny you the use of power-ups, put you against a tough time limit and meeting criteria (like not touching the floor), and award you either a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Medal depending how well you do. Boost Rush allows you to take on rejigged versions of the World’s according to certain criteria (such as focusing on the balloon Yoshi, Penguin Suit, or Squirrel Suit) to nab Coins and speed up the tempo of the game and the enemies. Finally, you can go head-to-head against other players in Coin Battle, or put together your own courses using Coin Edit to challenge your friends, and all of the game’s modes can be played with other players, who will respawn in bubbles after losing lives.

The Summary:
Although I’ve never had the greatest relationship with Super Mario titles since I notoriously struggle with his classic titles and only really got into the franchise once it moved into 3D, I really enjoy these 2.5D throwback games and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe truly is an exemplary title that showcases the very best of this side of the franchise. Colourful, visually appealing, and bolstered by jaunty music and cute, cartoony attention to detail, the game impresses with its tight controls and a fantastic implementation of some of Mario’s 3D skills (such as the triple jump and wall jump). While it can be frustrating at times because of the precise nature of its platforming and how inconsistent the physics and wall jumps can be with some characters, this is purposely implemented as part of the game’s difficulty curve and, more often than not, any mistakes you make will be because of you rather than the game being unfair. Every enemy, challenge, and obstacle can be overcome with skill and patience, and you’ll find yourself using Mario’s power-ups (especially the new Squirrel Suit) to take risks that invariably pay off to launch you off enemies and towards the coveted flagpole. The inclusion of four additional playable characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, really helps to add some variety to the gameplay (though I would’ve preferred there only being one Toad and to have Peach be playable by default, no matter how little sense that makes) so that anyone of any skill level can pick this up and enjoy it, and the boss battles, while simple, were pretty fun thanks to the challenging castles you have to go through beforehand. Super Luigi U was a much-appreciated additional feature, if one I found far more harrowing and frustrating, and I enjoyed all the extra challenges and features to help extend the game beyond the main story. Overall, this is easily my favourite 2.5D Super Mario adventure by far; it takes everything that worked so well in Mario’s better 16-bit titles and infuses them with the Switch’s high-definition graphics and mechanics, and it was an extremely fun and challenging gameplay experience from start to finish.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Did you enjoy Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe? How do you feel it compares other Mario titles, specifically the previous Super Mario Bros. games? Which of the playable characters was your favourite and why? Did you enjoy the new power-ups and the challenge offered by collecting the Star Coins? Which of the boss battles did you struggle with, and did you ever get all of the Star Stamps on your save file? What did you think to Super Luigi U? Which of Mario’s Switch games was your favourite and how are you celebrating Mario’s birthday this year? Whatever your thoughts on Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, feel free to share them below or drop a comment on my social media and be sure to check back in for more Mario content throughout March!

Game Corner [Zelda Day]: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD (Nintendo Switch)

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: 16 July 2021
Originally Released: 18 November 2018
Developer: Tantalus Media
Original Developer: Nintendo EAD
Also Available For: Nintendo Wii

The Background:
I’d like to think that even Nintendo couldn’t have predicted just how impactful the Legend of Zelda series’ (Nintendo EAD/Various, 1986) first foray into 3D was going to be; their attempts to follow up on the unprecedented success of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo EAD, 1998) resulted in one of the franchise’s darkest and most underappreciated entries, and Nintendo were keen to appeal to a wider audience with Ocarina of Time’s spiritual successor, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (ibid, 2006), which proved to be an the incredible success for Nintendo’s fledgling GameCube. Having turned the videogame industry on its head with the Nintendo Wii, producer Eiji Aonuma aimed to build upon the expansive nature of Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess to present the biggest and most detailed Zelda gameworld to date by offering something new through the Wii’s unique motion controls, more elaborate sword combat, a greater focus on exploration, and providing an origin story for the Master Sword. Since I struggle a bit with the Wii’s ridiculous motion controls, I missed out on Skyward Sword when it first released, but it was a massive critical success; considering how widely praised the game was, it was perhaps inevitable that Nintendo would produce a high definition remake for the Nintendo Switch as part of the 25th anniversary of the Legend of Zelda series. The long-rumoured upgrade of the lauded title was developed by Tantalus Media and the gameplay mechanics were redesigned so players could use either the Joy-Cons or a more traditional control scheme, alongside numerous other quality of life improvements to the graphics, frame rate, and save feature. Preorders for Skyward Sword HD sold out on Amazon, and the game sold over 3.6 million units worldwide; however, while it was met with largely positive reviews, it did score less than the original version. Still, reviews praised the more focused gameplay mechanics compared to other, larger Zelda games, and its technical achievements, though faced some criticism for the dated motion controls.

The Plot:
Positioned as the first adventure in the Legend of Zelda timeline, Skyward Sword details the origins of the powerful Master Sword as Link, resident of the floating island of Skyloft, embarks on a quest to rescue Zelda, his childhood friend, after she is kidnapped and taken to the Surface, an abandoned land below the clouds, by the malevolent Ghirahim as part of a plot to awaken an ages-old darkness upon the world.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a partially open world action/adventure in which players once again assume the role of an incarnation of Link, here a knight-in-training on an island above the clouds. Right away, players have two control options available to them that allows them to utilise motion controls much like the original Nintendo Wii release or to use a more traditional control scheme; however, while this latter option is more comfortable for me, it’s very different from how a Zelda game traditionally plays. A is now an action button that allows you to open doors and chests, talk to non-playable characters (NPCs), and pick up items; B is used to put your weapons away or can be help down while running or otherwise moving for a burst of speed (though you can’t hold it down indefinitely or you’ll drain your stamina wheel and be left defenceless as Link tries to catch his breath), X is mainly used to charge ahead when on your Loftwing, and Y isn’t really used at all. Consequently, sword combat is mapped to the right analogue stick; you can hold ZL to target enemies or interactable objects and flick the stick to unleash a sword attack (perhaps because of this, Link is now right-handed, as opposed to the traditional left). This actually took me a bit of time to adapt to as Link seems to swing his sword in the opposite direction you flick (swinging left with you flick to the right, for example), which can make activating certain switches and attacking some enemies tricky as you need to swing where there’s an opening.

Use motion controls, or the analogue stick, to attack and deflect and consult Fi for advice.

If you knock an enemy down, they’ll sometimes be left open for a “Fatal Blow” that allows you to leap at them for an instant kill, and Link and both perform is signature spin attack, jump swing, and also stab at enemies with his sword. Eventually, you’ll also learn the “Skyward Strike” which sees Link hold his sword aloft to charge it and then sending out an energy wave to damage enemies from a distance, which is a handy feature. Link can also defend himself with his shield by holding ZL and perform a shield bash, which doubles as a parry, by pressing in the left analogue stick. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the game’s shields can be burnt or broken, meaning you’ll either need to upgrade them to toughen them up, buy now ones, or complete a side quest to get a more durable shield. Like many 3D Zelda games, Link automatically jumps from ledges; he can also hang down, shimmy along, and climb vines, all of which will drain your stamina meter. Link can also swing from ropes to reach new areas, which can be a bit tricky to perform as you need to aim yourself with the left stick and flick the right stick up and down in just the right motion to get the momentum you need. Chatting with some NPCs will also offer you a few dialogue options, which don’t really factor into the plot or change their perception of you, but they do help to give Link a little bit more characterisation this time around. Once Link acquires the Master Sword, he also gains one of the most annoying travelling companions I’ve ever had the misfortune of being lumbered with as Fi, the spirit of the sword, acts as a guide, navigator, and tutorial to the player very much in the same way as Navi did back in the day. You can call upon Fi at anytime using the directional pad (D-pad) to gain insight into targeted enemies, remind yourself of your current objective, or get some advice, but she also pops up uninvited at various points to hold your hand or point out the obvious. She also helps you to search for objectives, treasure, and other items by using the sword’s “Dowsing” ability, which puts you into a first-person mode and guides you towards your set target.

Link can sour through the clouds, burrow underground, and must brave trials without the aid of his gear.

You can bring up the map using the – menu and set markers to also help guide you in the right direction, which is very useful as it can be easy to get turned around a bit. One thing to keep in mind here is that there are no manual saves; you need to find a Bird Statue to manually save your progress to one of three save files, though there is an autosave feature that effectively adds as a checkpoint system. Similar to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Nintendo EAD, 2002), the game’s overworld is a series of islands and set areas connected by a large void, in this case the open sky; Link can fly to new destinations using his Loftwing, which replaces the traditional horse, by tapping A to ascend and B to slow down or charge into enemies using X. You’ll be utilising the Loftwing a lot to travel back and forth between the three main areas of the game, as well as Skyloft and the smaller items as the story demands, but you can five down to any Bird Statue in any area and exit dungeons (or teleport to the Sky) from these same statues, though you can’t fast travel between destinations using this system. Though Link takes fall damage, you’ll soon acquire a Sailcloth that lets you glide to the ground from high falls by holding ZR (though you can’t actually manoeuvre him while he’s descending). This also allows you to ride air currents upwards and you’ll eventually gain the ability to swim and even twirl through and jump out of the water very much like Zora Link in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (ibid, 2000). Link also later acquires the Digging Mitts, which allow him to burrow underground and crawl through narrow caves, smashing boulders and activating switches to progress further, and also gets his hands on the Goddess’s Harp that lets him open up new areas by strumming the stings with well-timed movements of the right stick, which is a far cry from the ocarina playing or wind conducting from previous games. Link will also have to complete four trials in the “Silent Realm”; here, he loses all of his equipment and items and must race around collecting fifteen Sacred Tears across the map while avoiding the ghost-like Watchers and making sure you don’t touch the Waking Water or your Spirit Vessel doesn’t deplete as this will awakens the Guardians, who will hunt you down and eject you from the dimension upon impact, forcing you to begin all over again.

You’ll constantly be travelling back and forth between three areas in search of key items.

Although Skyward Sword looks like the biggest Zelda experience ever seen at the time, it really doesn’t actually feel that way; I’d argue that Twilight Princess felt much bigger and more connected thanks to actually having a large overworld with different routes and areas all linked together. In Skyward Sword, you’ll be spending most of your time travelling back and forth between the three main regions on the Surface (Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano, and the Lanayru Desert), Skyloft, and the Thundercloud up in the Sky. Each area is an isolated environment; you won’t find any routes or means to travelling from Faron Woods to Eldin Volcano beyond flying there on your Loftwing, but each of those regions does have a few other areas that you’ll explore as the game progresses. The Lanayru Desert, for example, is home to a treacherous desert, the Temple of Time, and a mine, all of which you’ll need to explore at various points. The main quest of the game asks Link to travel to each area thee times and acquire one of three different key items or meet three different objectives each time. At first, you’ll need to find three stone fragments form each region to access the Thundercloud; then, you need to find three Sacred Flames to power up the Master Sword. Then, you need to travel back again and find three pieces of the Song of the Hero and access the game’s final dungeon, all of which can get a bit repetitive even though the enemies and the environments do change which each revisit. Faron Woods becomes flooded, for example, and Eldin Volcano erupts, and you’ll find new regions opening up with your new gear and completing story-based tasks, such as Lake Floria just off Faron Woods, the ghostly Sandship and Rickety Coaster in Lanayru Desert’s Sand Sea (both of which are accessed by piloting a boat armed with a cannon), and at one point you’ll find yourself relieved of your weapons and gear and having to escape (and retrieve them) from Eldin Volcano without being spotting in an expansion of the Gerudo Fortress section of Ocarina of Time.

There are many puzzles here, from hitting switches, to crossing lava, and rearranging the environment.

Naturally, you’ll visit a number of dungeons in your quest, which (as is tradition) are realised as elemental-themed temples. Inside, you’ll find small keys to opens doors and a Dungeon Map (which now reveals Bird Statues, chests, and points of interest by default to replace the Compass) to help you progress, and you’ll need to clear rooms of enemies, activate switches and pressure pads, and take on sub-bosses to acquire the temple’s new weapon, which will allow you to progress further and tackle the boss. Sometimes you’ll need to move a weighted block onto a switch or out of the way to climb a ladder; other times, you’ll need to hit switches to raise or lower water and lava, cut through cobwebs, send eyeballs spinning, and shoot or hit faraway switches to open doors. Link will also need to hit plant bulbs (or carry them on the tip of his sword) to create temporary platforms in lava, grapple to floating plants or specific targets with the Clawshots, toss or guide bombs into baskets to create platforms over quicksand, and sever ropes to lower drawbridges. In Lanayru Desert, the majority of the puzzles are based around the “Timeshift Stones” which, when struck, will turn part of the immediate area from a desolate desert into a vibrant landscape, causing enemies, switches, equipment, and even land formations to form so you can progress. Many puzzles require you to carry a Timeshift Stone around or placing it in a specific area to lower one barrier while activating another, which is quite a unique and creative mechanic that really makes you think about how to tackle puzzles. All of these puzzle gimmicks and mechanics are revisited in the game’s final area, Sky Keep, which also features a unique and annoying gimmick that sees you rearranging the different rooms of the temple to open up new paths and acquire the three pieces of the Triforce.

Graphics and Sound:
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword certainly looks impressive; this HD version of the game has potentially upscaled the graphics to make everything very vibrant and moody, when necessary, and the game employs an aesthetic style that merges the fantastical realism of Twilight Princess with the cartoony presentation of The Wind Waker. In addition to having dialogue options during some conversations, Link continues to showcase a variety of facial expressions to help flesh out his otherwise silent character, and you’ll be hearing a lot of gibberish (mainly from Fi) when talking to others. Otherwise, there is no voice acting here, as is to be expected from a Zelda title; some dialogue can be sped up by pressing B and you can skip some cutscenes entirely by pressing the – button, but it can mean you’re left a bit clueless afterwards. Although each region is populated by unique NPCs, many of which are new to the series (such as the Ancient Robots but, while Parellas replace Zoras, Gorons are still present in the game), you’ll find the vast majority in Skyloft. Here, you can chat to Headmaster Gaepora, buy, sell, and upgrade items in the market, and will come across Link’s obnoxious rival, Groose, whose pratfalls and antagonism eventually turns into heroism as he helps aid Link’s quest to rescue Zelda.

Areas have a lot of see and do, and even change as the story progresses.

The game also features an appropriately operatic score that includes new renditions of the iconic Legend of Zelda main theme and versions of memorable tunes such as “Zelda’s Lullaby”; when you engage with enemies, successive strikes also speeds up the tempo of the battle music to help keep the adrenaline pumping and each area is nicely punctuated by both ambiant sounds and a fitting soundtrack. Skyloft is an impressive starting area and a pretty large central hub; you’ll find rooms to sleep in to pass the time and replenish your health, the market, a graveyard, and a practice hall to work on your sword techniques. While the Sky is basically just a barren void, there are small islands and rocks floating around that you can visit to find chests, mini games, and a prominent side quest centred around the Lumpy Pumpkin establishment. Shafts of red, yellow, green, and blue light will point you towards the three main regions and wherever you’ve placed a marker, and you’ll need to dodge Octoroks spitting rocks at you and tornados that will blow you off your Loftwing. The inside of the Thundercloud is initially best by storms and lightning and home to both one of the more annoying push puzzles in the game and the decidedly Wind Fish-like Levias, a gigantic whale that flies through the sky and clears the air after you free him from the parasite that has infected him. Although it’s possible to advance and alter the time of day by sleeping in beds, this rarely factors into the main plot, but it does turn Skyloft from a safe, vibrant location to a dangerous area as enemies spawn in under the cover of darkness. Similarly, when taking on the four Trial Gates, the immediate area takes on a darker, more ethereal quality as shadows become more prominent and glowing magical barriers bar your progress.

Areas are quite large and varied, but not as connected as in other Zelda videogames.

The game’s three main regions are based around classic Zelda tropes such as the forest, volcano, and desert, while also incorporating themes like water, wind, and time into their later areas. You can create shortcuts in each but pushing logs and mine carts, blowing up rocks, or grabbing levers to open gates (and also using your new weapons), but the areas will fundamentally change as the story progresses. Faron Woods start off as a kind of confusing wooded area that leads onto a cliffside leading to the Skyview Temple, a water and bug-infested cave or sorts, is home to a great tree, and also leads to a flowing river that takes you to Lake Florina (which later floods the woods) and the Ancient Cistern, a kind of steampunk-like Temple whose golden Oriental aesthetic hides a scary underground area. Eldin Volcano is full of lava and steep hills for you to run up while avoiding boulders tossed by enemies; enemies also wait atop wooden columns that you can knock over with bombs, and you’ll run around on a spherical rock, lobbing bombs are walls and trying to not burn your ass in the Earth Temple. Later, the whole area is covered in ash as the volcano erupts and you need to sneak around and recover your gear, avoiding spotlights, and douse face statues with water to gain access to the Fire Sanctuary, where you’ll be digging through the dirt with the Mogma Mitts. Lanayru Desert sees you racing across quicksand, using the map and markers to avoid sinking, activating three power generators to raise the Mining Facility, an area which springs to life with the Timeshift Stones to reveal conveyer belts, wind-powered platforms, and all manner of mechanical obstacles. You’ll also use one of these Timeshift Stones to safely cross the Sand Sea and ride the Rickety Coaster’s insane mine cart, and awaken the long-dead dragon that resides in the Lanayru Gorge.

Enemies and Bosses:
Longtime fans of the franchise will recognise many of the enemies that crop up in Skyward Sword, most of which are tailored to the game’s new combat system; Deku Babas and Bokoblins, for example, need specific horizontal or vertical swipes of your sword to dispatch, and this is carried through to tougher enemies like the Lizalfos and Stalfos. While you can easily mow down the bat-like Keese and Chuchus with reckless abandon, you’ll have to factor in elemental variants that will electrocute or burn you, you generally can’t just swipe away at enemies; you’ll need to either cut down Beamos columns and stab them in the “eye” or shoot an arrow at them from afar to destroy them, reflect back Sentrobe missiles with well-timed swings of your sword, run up and over Moblin shields to attack them from behind, drag Furnix to the ground with your Whip, blow the spinning magnets atop the Armos’ heads with the Gust Bellows to expose their weak spot, and toss water on Magmanos to turn it to stone and chip away with your sword. Enemies become tougher and more prevalent as the game progresses, causing less dangerous areas to become more hazardous as shield-carrying Moblins wander about and archer Bokoblins take shots at you from above; these latter can also call in reinforcements with horns, carry bombs, and even take on a zombie-like appearance to cause even more bother.

While you’ll fight some of the sub-bosses ore than once, nothing’s more persistent than the Imprisoned.

Naturally, each of the game’s Temples is home to a sub-boss as well as the main boss. These are often newer, tougher enemies that soon become part of the regular ensemble you encounter, such as the Lizalfos, Moblins, and Moldorms. Lizalfos can be tricky to defeat as they swipe at you with their tails, guard against your attacks with their armoured arms, and breath fire, but you can parry their attacks to leave them open to your attacks, which is a system that serves you well for other sub-bosses like the Stalfos and its four-armed cousin, the Stalmaster. You can use a similar tactic against the two skeletal pirates, LD-0016 Scervo and LD-003D Dreadfuse, who swipe at you with a sword and hook hand and try to force you back into a spiked wall as you try to sever their limbs and force them off a narrow walkway. Easily the most recurring (and frustrating) sub-boss is “The Imprisoned”, a gigantic beast who you must defeat three times, with each battle getting harder and adding new wrinkles. The Imprisoned can only be hurt by attacking its toes; slice off all eight and you then have to frantically run around it to attack the sealing spike in its head, but it causes shockwaves with each step, crawls around in an invulnerable state, tries to climb upwards, and even flies in later encounters. Groose is on hand to help you in the latter two battles; you can switch to him to catapult bombs at the creature to stun it, and will need to perfectly fire Link at the creature’s head to finish it off for good before it can reach the Sealed Temple, which will cause a game over and force you to begin the fight all over again.

You’ll fight Ghirahim three times, with the final battle somehow easier than the first.

Another boss you’ll encounter numerous times throughout the main story is the game’s primary antagonist, Ghirahim the Demon Lord, who serves as the boss of the Skyview Temple, Fire Sanctuary, and the penultimate boss of the game. Ghirahim is perhaps one of the most frustrating boss characters I’ve ever fought as all of your weapons and tactics are useless and must be set aside for patience and well-timed strikes; Ghirahim can easily block, avoid, parry, and even steal your sword while tossing hard-to-avoid daggers at you, charging in for big damage, and teleporting all over the place. However, you’ll notice that he mirrors the position of your sword; so, if his hand is on the left, lure him in and strike from any direction other than left. When he teleports, roll or dash away and hell get stuck in the ground, leaving him open for a flurry, and you can utilise the same tactics as with Stalfos and the Stalmaster and strike at him wherever his swords aren’t positioned when he brings out his own blade. You can also interrupt his charging attack with a well-timed strike, but these can be pretty tough battles though, ironically, I actually found the final encounter with him to be the easiest of the three (potentially because I had actually figured out how to fight him by this point). This is a three-stage encounter against Ghirahim’s true form that you must wade through a hoard of enemies to even get to; you start off on a magical platform and must perform shield parries to expose the glowing jewel in his chest that can only be damaged with stabs. Hit a few to knock him down to the next platform and perform a Fatal Blow to deal damage and trigger the next phase, which sees him busting out his daggers, and his final phase where he shields himself with a gigantic sword. However, you can chop away at this with repeated swipes of the Master Sword to leave him defenceless and finally put him down for good soon after, which actually makes for a pretty exhilarating final battle against the so-called Demon Lord.

Bosses are large and quiet inventive, requiring interesting uses of your weapons to stun and defeat.

Outside of these fights with Ghirahim, you’ll also have to contend with some pretty inventive, if a bit aggravating, boss battles. The insectoid Scaldera awaits at the end of the Earth Temple and sees you rolling bombs into is rocky hide, and gaping mouth, while avoiding fireballs (and getting blown up yourself), to crack its outer shell and swipe at its exposed eye. Moldarch awaits in the Lanayru Mining Facility and Lanayru Shipyard; this giant scorpion clamps you in its pincers and swipes at you with its tail, but can be hurt by swiping at the eyes in its appendages. When it burrows under the sand, you’ll need to blow the sand away with the Gust Bellows to get it to emerge so you can stab it in the face. Koloktos guards the Ancient Cistern and is probably the first most visually interesting and mechanically engaging boss battle; you basically need to avoid the blades it tosses at you and dodge out of the way when it swings its swords at you, and then use your Whip to detach the arms and use one of the dropped swords to slash at its legs and main body. Eventually, it starts to attack more aggressively, meaning you’ll need to use the nearby columns for cover, and you’ll need to slash at its repeatedly with its own weapon to cut it down to size and finish it off. The Cthulu-like Tentalus attacks the Sandship, smashing its squid-like tentacles through the hull, flooding, and capsizing the boat and leading to a dramatic confrontation in the storm swept deck of the ship. You’ll need to run about avoiding the tentacles as they burst through the deck, or slice them in half with a Skyward Strike, then avoid being swatted by them to shoot an arrow into the beast’s eye to down it and slash at it with your sword. When Tentalus switches to the upper deck, it lashes at you with its Medusa-like hair, which you must wade through with sword slashes to get the final blow on the massive sea creature. After enticing out Levias with a massive cauldron of Pumpkin Soup, Link must chase after the gigantic whale on his Loftwing, charging into the eye-ball tentacles that sprout from its hide, before landing on its back and battling Bilocyte. This is easily the easiest boss battle in the entire game and simple requires you to reflect Bilocyte’s projectiles with swipes of your sword, then attack its head when it gets stunned.

Demise, a precursor to Ganon, challenges you to a relatively simple sword fight in the finale.

After defeating all of the game’s bosses, travelling back and forth, and collecting everything the plot requires you to get, Ghirahim kidnaps Zelda and flees through the Fate of Time to the past, where he sets a whole hoard of enemies against you that you must wade through before battling the Demon Lord for the last time. Even if you’re victorious though, the Imprisoned rises one last time and begins absorbing Zelda’s essence, allowing the demonic Demise to be reborn. After dispatching Ghirahim and reverting him to his natural form of a sword, the malevolent demon transports away to another dimension to await your final challenge. I recommend preparing yourself for this final battle, and saving your game, before following Demise and engaging with him in a one-on-one sword battle with two phase; first, you need to keep your guard up and parry Demise’s attacks to leave him momentarily vulnerable to a sword swipe. Demise will occasionally charge at you, but also keeps you on your toes with fake-out attacks, but the main issue you’ll have here is timing your parries properly and not letting your shield break. In the second phase, lightning strikes all around, charging both Demise’s sword and yours; holding the Master Sword aloft will let you charge it for a Skyward Strike, which will both counteract Demise’s own energy beam and stun him long enough for you to strike. Ultimately, it’s not a particularly difficult battle, but the atmosphere and music definitely help to make it quite engaging, it’s just a shame that it involves so much waiting and strategy. While there is no boss battle in the Sky Keep (beyond rematches with some of the sub-bosses), you can unlock a boss rush, of sorts, after resurrecting and restoring Lanayru the dragon. Lanayru allows you to battle every boss in the game (aside from Levias and Bilocyte) in succession, with only the items he held when he first fought them, or playthrough the Silent Realm challenges again in order to earn rewards such as Rupees, treasures, a Heart Piece, or the indestructible Hylian Shield.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you embark on your epic quest, a wide variety of recognisable pick-ups and power-ups are at your disposal; slashing bushes, pots, rolling into trees, and defeating enemies will yield hearts to refill your health and Rupees, which can be spent buying new gear, potions, and upgrades for your gear. You’ll also find Stamina Fruit scattered all over the place, which will refill your stamina meter, and Goddess Cubes, which can be dispelled with a Skyward Strike and allow you to open special chests all over the place and gain more Rupees or treasures. I recommend scooping a fairy up in your bottle so you can restore six hearts upon defeat and you can buy potions for your empty bottles, which will replenish your health or stamina meter, but you can’t permanently upgrade the stamina meter, acquire new tunics, or learn any magic. Defeating bosses will yield a Heart Container, and you’ll occasionally find Heart Pieces all over the place, four of which will also increase your maximum health by one heart.

In addition to additional weapons and gear, you can also purchase upgrades for your items.

Each of the games dungeons includes a new weapon for you to add to your inventory: the Beetle allows you to pilot a little mechanical beetle to hit switches, defeat or stun enemies, and drop bombs; the Clawshots let you grapple to vines and specific targets (and even disarm enemies); the Whip lets you pull switches and swing from certain hooks; you can roll or toss bombs to blow upon certain rocks; the Digging and Mogma Mitts let you dig up collectibles or burrow underground; the Slingshot and Bow let you shoot at enemies and targets from a distance; and the Gust Bellows disorientates enemies and lets you move platforms or blow away sand. You can also buy new gear from the market, such as extra bomb bags and quivers to increase your maximum capacity, shields to defend yourself, and a Bug Net to capture bugs that can be sold in Skyloft. As you explore, you’ll find a variety of treasures that can be used to upgrade your gear in Skyloft to increase their damage or range. Furthermore, key items like the Water Dragon Scale and Fireshield Earrings allow you to swim and withstand extreme heat and you can also purchase expensive extras from Beedle to increase your adventure pouch, expand your wallet, and spawn additional health among other things.

Additional Features:
There are sixteen different treasures and twelve bugs to find throughout Skyward Sword, in addition to twenty-seven Goddess Cubes to activate, thus awarding yourself additional Rupees and gear. There are also twenty-four Heart Pieces to find, which will extend your maximum health to twenty hearts, and a number of side quests available to keep you busy. The owner of the Lumpy Pumpkin will have you ferrying hot soup, collecting pumpkins, and playing the harp with his daughter (both extremely tricky mini games) in order to make up for damaging his property, the Thrill Digger has you digging in specific spots for Rupees, and you can dive for Rupees after fixing up Fun Fun Island. You can also rapidly slice bamboo sticks with your upgraded sword and shoot arrows at pumpkins for additional awards, but the most prominent side quest is the pursuit of “Gratitude Crystals”. After finding a lost girl in Skyloft, the cursed   Batreaux asks you to help others to earn these crystals and bring them to him to receive big Rupee rewards, a Heart Piece, the biggest wallet available, and also restore him (as in Batreaux) to human. These crystals are earned from helping NPCs in various ways, such as bringing a scrap of paper to a mysterious man in a toilet, bringing medicine for a wounded Loftwing, and repairing the fortune teller’s crystal ball. After completing the game for the first time, you can create a new save file that allows you to play through in “Hero Mode” where the enemies are tougher and shuffled about and neither enemies or pots will drop hearts, making the game much more challenging (although the Skyward Strike does instantly charge).

The Summary:
After struggling to get to grips with, and properly enjoy, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD, 2017), I was somewhat excited to finally get the chance to play Skyward Sword, a title I had long avoided as I have no desire to play any game, much less a Zelda game, using purely motion controls. Although it took me a little while to adjust to the analogue-based combat and camera controls, both of which are a little clunky due to the control mapping, I found a lot to enjoy in this game. The focus on using specific sword swipes to defeat enemies and bosses made this a very unique Zelda experience, but did make the combat a bit awkward at times, especially with the reversed controls. The visual presentation was very good, but I do feel like many of the areas are much too empty and restricted; since the game’s set in a world of disparate islands above the clouds and a surface accessible only from specific points, it didn’t really feel like a large, interconnected world and reminded me a little too much of the wide, largely empty ocean from The Wind Waker. Flying on the Loftwing was fun, and the boss battles were very engaging and inventive; even the battles against Ghirahim, despite being frustrating at times, were interesting as it required more than just slashing at them mindlessly but the game really lets itself down with the constant back and forth. I feel like it might’ve been better to have areas like Lake Floria as separate as the other regions, just so that the world felt a little bigger and had a bit more variety, but continuously having to revisit the three main regions again and again find something else in each area quickly became repetitive and disappointing, even when the areas visually changed. The lack of tunics and customisation options for Link was a shame, though I felt the game had a better balance between the stamina meter and destructible items compared to Breath of the Wild, which went way overboard in those aspects. Ultimately, there’s a lot to like here and it’s a perfectly enjoyable Zelda title, but, despite being visually superior, I think I still prefer Twilight Princess as it did a much better job of crafting a large, interconnected fantasy world with a lot of variety and a better mixture of new and old gameplay elements.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you played this HD version of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword? How do you feel it compares to the original Wii release and were would you rank it amongst all the other Zelda titles? Were you a fan of the motion controls and the switch to a vast world above the clouds? Which of the dungeons and bosses was your most, or least, favourite? What did you think to the constant back and forth between the same areas? Which of the Silent Realm trials was the hardest for you? Were you able to find all of the bugs and treasures? Which Zelda game is your favourite and how are you celebrating the franchise today? Whatever your thoughts on Skyward Sword, sign up to leave a comment below, or let me know on my social media.

Game Corner: Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Nintendo Switch)

Released: 31 October 2019
Developer: Next Level Games

The Background:
In 1996, following their success in the “Console Wars” of the nineties, Nintendo entered the third dimension with Nintendo 64, a console that stood out against its competitors by continuing to use cartridges, coming readymade for multi-player player, and featuring a unique controller design. Having lost out to Sony’s new-fangled PlayStation, Nintendo sought to recoup their once-vaulted position as the premier entertainment option with the Nintendo GameCube, which finally saw the company switch to discs (albeit with a suitably “Nintendo” flair) and was also notable for Mario’s younger brother, Luigi, finally receiving his time in the spotlight with Luigi’s Mansion (Nintendo EAD, 2001), a game that focused more on exploration and puzzle solving as Luigi channelled his inner Ghostbuster to suck up ghosts infesting a hotel and rescue his brother. Although the game sold extremely well and was a critical success, it took twelve years for the game to get a sequel. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (Next Level Hames, 2013) released for the Nintendo 3DS and was also a best-selling title for the system and met with largely unanimous praise. After development of a third game for the Wii U was delayed, Next Level Games finally returned to the franchise six years after the release of the second game; developed for the Nintendo Switch, Luigi’s Mansion 3 saw the setting expand from a mansion to a high-rise hotel and also increased the game’s accessibility by including on- and offline multiplayer modes. Considering the success of its predecessors, it’s perhaps no surprise that Luigi’s Mansion 3 became one of the Switch’s best-selling titles and was regarded as Luigi’s best adventure yet.

The Plot:
Luigi, his pet ghost dog Polterpup, Mario, Princess Peach, and three Toads are invited to the luxurious Last Resort hotel for a vacation. Soon after arriving, Luigi awakens to find the hotel transformed into a haunted building and the others imprisoned in pictures by the hotel’s ghostly owner, Hellen Gravely, as part of a trap set by the nefarious King Boo. Arming himself with Professor E. Gadd’s newest Poltergust vacuum, Luigi hesitantly sets out to rescue his friends and suck up the hotel’s ghost infestation.

Like its predecessors, Luigi’s Mansion 3 as an action/adventure game with a strong emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving. Players are played into the shoes of Mario’s younger, often unfairly overlooked brother, Luigi, who is robbed of his usual athletic abilities and must rely on a vacuum-cleaner like device, the Poltergust G-00, rather than his jumping prowess to dispose of the many ghosts that have infested the hotel. As you explore the many dark hallways and various themed floors of the hotel, you’ll need to use Luigi’s torch (or “flashlight” for any Americans out there) to stun nearby ghosts; you can do this by tapping or holding A, which will freeze most ghosts on the spot for a few seconds so you can suck them up by holding down ZR and filling up an onscreen circle by holding back on the left analogue stick. Once this is full, you can press A to perform a slam move that will deal greater damage to the ghost and speed up the process, but just sucking them up is enough to whittle down their health.

Stun ghosts and suck them up with your trusty Poltergust G-00.

You can also use ZL to send out a gust of air to push enemies back or fire certain items at ghosts as projectiles, or press ZR and ZL together to perform a quick burst akin to a jump that won’t let you reach higher platforms but will knock back enemies. All of these Poltergust functions are also useful for interacting with your environment; you can suck up curtains and sheets, blast furniture and chandeliers, and affect almost everything in every room either with the vacuum or by pressing X. This will reward you with loot, such as Golden Coins, gold bars, bills of money, and pieces of heart to refill your health, but can also uncover hidden ghosts. Some of these, such as shiny gold and blue-coloured variants, will reward you with additional loot and collectibles, so it’s well worth exploring every room you enter to see what you can uncover. You can use the left-hand circle pad (or directional pad, depending on which Switch you have) to call for Mario with left, right, and down, or enlarge the onscreen map by pressing up. The map can also eventually be accessed from the + menu, which allows you to view the floor you’re on, review your current objectives, and chat with E. Gadd for hints, though it’s generally pretty clear where you need to go and not only will Polterpup occasionally pop up to show you where you need to go but E. Gadd will communicate hints to you through the “Virtual Boo” if you struggle to solve puzzles.

Luigi can use his plunger or his gooey doppelgänger to solve puzzles.

As the story progresses, E. Gadd will furnish you with these additional upgrades, and others; eventually, you’ll gain the ability to fire plungers with Y, which you can suck up to destroy chests and other parts of the environment, activate switches and such, and remove protective items from certain ghosts. You’ll also acquire the “Dark-Light Device”, another torch-like appendage that lets you uncover hidden chests, doors, and other secrets, track Polterpup and the mischievous Polterkitty, and even defeat certain enemies by holding X to shine the dark-light around the environment. Your most useful ability, and the game’s big new gameplay mechanic, is “Gooigi”, a protoplasmic double of Luigi that E. Gadd eventually supplies you with and which you can send out of the Poltergust but pressing in the right stick. Doing so switches your control to the gooey double, who can slip through bars, vents, and grates and allow you to clear rooms and puzzles by activating switches or opening doors as one character and progressing as the other. Gooigi is quite fragile, having only twenty-five hearts to his name, and immediately dissolves upon touching water, and many of the game’s puzzles and bosses that involve him are geared specifically towards having a second player on hand. If you don’t have one, you’re forced to switch between the two on the fly using the right analogue stick, which can be tricky and frustrating at times and leaves Luigi vulnerable to attack while playing as Gooigi. Still, it’s an interesting mechanic and make you think a little harder about approaching each room, as your exploration may uncover a hidden vent that leads to a key or other loot.

You’ll need to make innovative use of Gooigi and the Poltergust to find the keys needed to progress.

Your primary objective in Luigi’s Mansion 3 is to rescue the three Toads, Mario, and Princess Peach from the magical paintings they’ve been trapped in. To do this, you’ll need to defeat a number of bosses to acquire the missing buttons for the hotel’s elevator; each boss you defeat awards a button, giving you access to another floor of the hotel, and many of the floors contain a specific theme that help them to stand out. Most of the time, you need to navigate through rooms clearing out all of the ghosts you encounter and exploring any hidden areas; other times, you’ll need to find a key to open doors, or find another way around if doors are blocked or barred, or use the two Luigis to activate switches and fans with their weight or Poltergusts. The game’s puzzles eventually become a bit more complex, and it’s not always immediately clear what you need to do: in one area, you need to roll and unroll carpets according to how they appear in a mirror; in another, you need to use the jump burst to uncover dangerous and painful laser traps; and other times, you need to blast Toad at breakable walls or use your plunger to pull down weights to activate lifts. Quite a few puzzles require you to shut off water streams so that Gooigi can reach a switch, or have you creating shortcuts using ladders, or blowing on windmills to rotate rooms and access hidden switches or keys. Probably the most complex puzzle is found on the eighth floor, which is a television studio; here, you need to warp between four different film sets using television sets and activate a film camera as one character while the other fends off ghosts to acquire an item, which must be then taken to another set and so on until you’re able to get the key item you require.

Graphics and Sound:
Luigi’s Mansion 3 retains both the charming, cartoony aesthetic of its iconic characters and also the gloomy, ominous surroundings of its predecessors. Luigi’s character model is fantastically expressive; his body shivers and his teeth chatter as he cautiously wanders the hotel’s hallways, and he jumps with fright at any sudden movements or sounds. I find it endlessly amusing that the developers continue to implement a specific button to have him call out for Mario in a terrified voice, and it’s a continual source of amusement to see how he comically reacts to scares, rooms, and even damage. Of all the other Mario characters seen in the game, the one you’ll interact with the most on a gameplay level is Toad; you have to rescue three of these little blighters, and they’ll follow you around, squealing with fear at every opportunity, and you can give them a little high-five or even shoot them as a projectile to progress further. You’ll also spend a great deal of time interacting with Professor E. Gadd, who sets up a laboratory in the hotel basement that you can quick travel to for upgrades, hints, and to view bonus materials, and all of these familiar characters are brought to life wonderfully using the power of the Nintendo Switch.

The Last Resort is full of rooms both bizarre and expected, and carries a comical horror throughout.

The Last Resort is quite a large and versatile environment; although it’s a hotel, it contains many areas and rooms that you might not expect. At first, you’ll explore such traditional areas as the basement, laundry room, and various bedrooms and dining rooms you would expect to find in a hotel. Each of these are infested with ghosts, of course, and filled with interactable objects, but things start to get incredibly bizarre as you explore the upper floors of the hotel. Here, you’ll enter the aforementioned television studio, a floor littered with magician’s tricks and apparel (including mirrors and upside-down rooms), a gymnasium, and an Egyptian-themed floor full of hieroglyphics, sand, and even a pyramid. You’ll also find a pirate-themed cavern, a beach, and explore rat-infested sewers and a boiler room, and scale a crumbling, wrecked staircase in the overgrown gardens. There are fifteen floors to visit and two basement levels to explore, with secrets and enemies increasing the further you progress; areas start to become more and more overrun with ghosts and different combinations of enemies, which constantly keeps you on your toes, and it’s continuously amusing to see what new surprises await you on the next floor as the hotel is crammed full of both surreal areas like the Unnatural History Museum and the comparatively normal master suite at the top floor.

The game’s presentation shines through, but especially in the pantomime-like cutscenes.

While the graphics and environments are impressive and full of a decent amount of variety, the music isn’t really all that interesting. The iconic Luigi’s Mansion theme plays sporadically throughout the game, and areas are mostly accompanied by bursts of lightning, skittering rats, chattering ghosts, and the sounds of Luigi’s terrified footsteps and whimpers. Ambient sounds and subdued musical cues help add to the game’s comical terror, and Polterpup’s inexhaustible enthusiasm is a welcome addition and, as is the standard for Mario games, characters speak using text boxes, gibberish, and a few choice voice clips, so you won’t have to worry about sitting through any overblown cutscenes here and can simply enjoy the characters employing amusing pantomime-like motions and spouting nonsense when they interact.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you might expect, given the franchise, your primary enemies in Luigi’s Mansion 3 are a series of ghosts who have taken residence in the hotel. These range from the standard blue-coloured Goobs (who are easily mopped up but sometimes shield themselves with shades and wield melee weapons like baseball bats), the yellow-coloured Oozers (who pop up from hiding spots to throw projectiles at you), and miniature versions of these enemies. You’ll also have to fend off rats, bats, and spiders (though these little critters can be easily dispatched with a burst of your flashlight), and possessed chests and bins that need to be blasted with projectiles or subjected to your dark-light. Soon enough, you’ll come across more formidable ghosts, however: the Hammers will try to crush you with their cube-like bodies and must be sucked up from behind, Slinkers will scare you and leave you vulnerable and also try to kidnap Toads, and Trappers require both Luigi and Gooigi to suck on their tongues to dispatch them. When in the Tomb Suites, you’ll have to knock over mummified ghosts with your jump burst and unravel their bandages to expose their ectoplasmic bodies, and larger and more diverse groups of enemies will eventually populate the hotel’s higher floors, causing you to mix and match your attack strategies.

The first few bosses slowly introduce mechanics that prove extremely useful for later battles.

Seventeen bosses must be fought in the game’s story, with fifteen of them being required to beat in order to access every floor in the mansion; while their attacks differ from each other and you’ll generally have to employ different strategies in each battle, they all mostly boil down to finding a way to stun the boss and then suck them up with the Poltergust. The first boss you’ll encounter is a ghostly steward, who shields himself from your flashlight with suitcases and then tosses them at you in the hotel’s basement. On the fifth floor, you’ll counter a particularly malevolent maid who disappears through the bedrooms of the RIP Suites and will cause Luigi to sneeze with her feather duster, and can only be sucked up after using your plunger to slam the briefcase stuck in her stomach. In the hotel’s mall, you’ll need to find a number of different keys to confront Kruller, a bulbous security guard who dissolves Gooigi with a water pistol and must have his shades sucked off so that he can be stunned, but also strikes with a rolling attack. While in the second floor kitchen, you’ll battle the first formidable boss of the game, Chef Soulfflé, who shields himself with a frying pan and unleashes a spinning attack with his knives. To defeat him, you’ll need to avoid the fishes he throws at you and stun him by firing melons at him to leave him vulnerable to your torch and Poltergust.

Soon, you’ll need to use your Poltergust in innovative ways to outwit and defeat the bosses.

Things start getting a little more complicated when you battle Amadeus Wolfgeist, a pianist who remains safely out of reach on the stage and causes chairs to fly at you, distracts you with ballerina ghosts, and then possesses his piano. In this form, he is invulnerable and hops around the theatre, but can be stunned when Amadeus pops out of the piano; you then need to try and shoot bombs into the piano lid to collapse it and drag Amadeus out with your plunger, which gives you the chance to properly damage him but you’ll also have to watch out for his flaming attacks and the piano keys he tosses at you. Another troublesome boss is King MacFrights, who’s fought in a medieval coliseum and can only be stunned when he charges at you for a lance attack while archers shoot arrows at you. After slamming him a few times, his armour will break and you’ll have to dodge his spinning attack and strike while he’s left dizzy and vulnerable. Just reaching Doctor Potter can be a chore as you have to weave through the wild gardens to get to him and, when you do, he sends his Venus flytrap at chomp away at you; avoid this, however, and it’ll get stuck on the environment, allowing you to cut it using a convenient buzzsaw, which leaves him vulnerable to your Poltergust. After helping Morty the ghostly director find his megaphone, he’ll force you to star in his latest production and battle a Goob inside a Godzilla-like costume; you must use the Poltergust, in conjunction with Gooigi, to force the monster’s fireballs back into its face in order to damage it. Once you destroy the suit, the Goob is easily sucked up, and you can also choose to suck up Morty as well by going into his office in you fancy it.

Later bosses make use of their environment to defend themselves and attack you!

In the Unnatural History Museum, you’ll be attacked by another monstrous enemy as the caveman-like Ug possesses a giant Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, which can only be damaged by firing eggs first into its mouth and then into the glowing red orb in its rib cage. Once the T. rex is destroyed, Ug himself will come out to fight; while he’s a bit of a bruiser, as long as you stay away from his club and burst-jump over his shockwaves, you can stun and suck him when his club gets stuck in the floor. Clem awaits you in the boiler for a battle in a reservoir of water lined with spikes; he’ll attack you with a fan and send out landmines, which you must direct towards him to blast him out of the water and leave him vulnerable, meaning it’s best to leave Luigi floating in the water and have Gooigi on the outside ready to attack. After conquering the Tomb Suits’ puzzles and traps, you’ll battle Serpci, a pharaoh-like entity that protects herself with a mound of sand and strikes at you with cobras. Sucking at her sand and snakes will cause her to become exposed, then you must dodge the projectiles she fires to stun her, though her speed and unpredictability make her a particularly aggravating boss. A trio of magician ghosts, Nikki, Lindsey, and Ginny, await you in the Twisted Suites; this is actually good preparation for the final boss as the three fire playing cards at you from their magician’s hats and must be stunned with a jump-burst when they try and grind you up at close range and you must attack each ghost in turn, with decoy ghosts taking the place of each of the triplets as they’re captures.

After chasing down Polterkitty, you’ll need to make use of Gooigi to defeat the game’s later bosses.

One of the most recurring enemies you’ll face is Poltergkitty, a mini boss who steals a couple of the elevator keys and forces you to chase after it across the floors of the hotel. When you finally confront it, you need to face away from it and wait for it to creep up behind you; right as it’s rearing to strike, at the very last minute, you must turn around and stun it so you can suck it up and remove one of its tails until it’s defeated. Captain Fishook awaits you in the Spectral Catch; at first, you need to avoid his charge and the swing of his hook, stunning and sucking him up when he gets stuck in the deck of the ship, but things get much more harrowing when the shark possesses the ship itself, turning the wooden decking into a gnashing mouth that you must fire bombs into and avoid being tipped into it by the ship’s wild dipping. Johnny Deepend absolutely requires the use of both Luigi and Gooigi and is best fought with another player; Luigi must take cover and distract the boss so that Gooigi can slip around behind it and drain the water from the pool. After that, simply avoid his fists, remove his shades, and stun him with a water polo ball to suck him up, and you’ll then have to contend with DJ Phantasmagloria. First, you have to deal with the dancing Goobs, stunning the one who has the elevator button you need with a jump-burst, before the boss officially joins the battle. DJ Phantasmagloria teleports around the dance floor tossing vinyl records at you and you need to use the burst-jump to knock off her afro and leave her vulnerable to your flashlight so you can suck her up.

Fittingly, thanks get extremely challenging and chaotic for the final showdown with Hellen and King Boo.

When you finally reach the fifteenth floor of the hotel, you’ll have to face off against the hotel owner, Hellen Gravely, in another boss battle that is absolutely built to be conquered by two players. While Luigi must avoid the spinning lasers and coloured laser walls, Gooigi must head down into the lower levels to deactivate the aforementioned laser walls by pulling four switches. Removing all four walls makes trying to suck her up much easier but realistically you can probably do just as good a job of avoiding her attacks and going after her with one or two of the walls deactivated. As the battle progresses, you’ll have to avoid more lasers by either frantically running around the arena or jump-bursting over them, and water will flood the lower level, restricting which switches you can pull, though you can flash the green lights on the walls and the insects to replenish your health if necessary. Afterwards, you must head to the roof to do battle with King Boo, who tries to squash and rattle you by dropping down from above and causing shockwaves, spits a bunch of fireballs at you, tries to slam and swipe at you with his tongue, electrifies the roof tiles, and tosses bombs into the arena. You must quickly suck one of these up and fire them into his mouth, which is easier said than done given how tricky the aiming mechanics can be, and this only makes the battle harder as King Boo spawns first one and then two duplicates and vastly increases the aggression and number of its attacks. You’ll only gain victory by firing bombs into the right King Boo, but it’s actually easier to just blast as many bombs as possible at all the targets and hope for the best as things get very chaotic very quickly thanks to the time limit in the final phase.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
At the start of the game, your options are limited to your flashlight but it doesn’t take long before you acquire the Poltergust G-00. However, once you have this, you’ve basically got everything you’ll need for the remainder of the game; sure, you get the dark-light, the plungers, and the Virtual Boo but there’s only really one prominent upgrade to the Poltergust, the Super Suction, and it’s only used once in the game, which is a little disappointing. You can earn additional upgrades for the device by meeting certain requirements, such as collecting all of the game’s gems or defeating all of the optional Boos, but none of the money you earn is used to upgrade your repertoire or even your health. When Professor E. Gadd sets up his shop, however, you can buy some helpful items, such as Gold Bones to have Polterpuppy resurrect you when your health is drained and sensors to alert you to nearby Gems and Boos, but that’s about it in terms of items and power-ups beyond the temporary use of a buzzsaw in the gardens.

Additional Features:
As alluded to, there are some rewards you can earn for meeting specific requirements, referred to as “Achievements”; these are directly tied to repetitive actions, such as riding the elevator, defeating specific numbers of ghosts, and interacting with certain objects in each environment. They’re also tied the game’s few collectibles; every floor has six hidden gems to find, with many requiring quite a bit of exploration and ingenuity to track down, and you’ll also be given the optional task of hunting down sixteen hidden Boos, who require a little more strategy than just stunning and sucking up as they like to play hide-and-seek, must be stunned with the dark-light, and can be difficult to pin down. When you complete the story, you’ll receive a letter grade and get to see a rebuilt version of the hotel that reflects how much money you have but, unlike in the first game, you don’t get to play through a mirrored version of the game on a new save file.

Hunt down hidden gems and Boos, and battle against friends in the game’s multiplayer modes.

You can view the ghosts you’ve defeated and the gems you’ve collected at Professor E. Gadd’s lab, but the majority of your additional playtime will probably be taken up with the game’s extra modes, which can be played either solo or alongside fellow players. The ScreamPark challenges you to collect Coins, defeat ghosts, or shoot at targets to score points for your team; the ScareScraper sees you defeating ghosts, rescuing Toads, and fulfilling other objects either alone or in teams while avoiding traps. At the end of those mode, you’ll battle the Boolossus, an even more formidable version of King Boo that adds a phasing attack to its arsenal and splits into a number of regular Boos after eating a bomb. If you fancy putting your hand in your pocket, you can also purchase some additional content (such as costumes, games, and ghosts) for these modes, though I have to say that I remain unimpressed with the lack of post-game content.

The Summary:
I remember enjoying the original Luigi’s Mansion back when I borrowed it for the GameCube when it came out, but being disappointed by the post-game content; there wasn’t too much on offer beyond the main game, despite there being a lot to see and do as you explore, and I can’t say that I was too interested in revisiting the franchise after that experience but I was won over by the game’s visual style and charm. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is basically more of the same; the gameplay and mechanics haven’t really changed all that much as far as I can tell, and the developers haven’t really complicated the premise with too many different mechanics. The addition of Gooigi is an interesting one that is tailor-made for two players (specifically an older and younger player) but perfectly acceptable to play solo as long as you can properly manage your characters thanks to the puzzles and areas being quite restricted to closed off areas. As visually impressive as the game is, and as expansive and diverse as the hotel is, however, there’s really not too much to occupy your time in the main game outside of bustin’ ghosts and ransacking the hotel for loot. There’s still no option to play as any other character, which I find endlessly disappointing, and while you suck up a lot of currency, there’s very few opportunities to really spend your money on anything beyond a few minor additions to your arsenal, and beyond the hidden gems and Boos there’s not really much incentive to explore or search around the hotel’s rooms. I imagine that the additional modes offer a lot of replay value, and that the game is more enjoyable in co-op mode, but I put all of my time into the single player story and, while I had a good time, I was hoping for a little more from it. A mirrored mode, purchasable upgrades and skins, and maybe the option to utilise Polterpup and/or Toad would have been nice but there’s definitely enough content and gameplay on offer to keep players (especially younger players) invested and challenged, I just think there could have been a little more spice added to the mix.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you played Luigi’s Mansion3? What did you think of it compared to the previous two games, and which was your introduction to the franchise? Are you a fan of the series and how different it is from the traditional Mario formula? Do you agree that there could have been a little more in-game content or were you satisfied with what was on offer? Which of the floors and bosses was your most, or least, favourite and did you ever play the game in co-op? What games are you playing this Halloween season? Whatever you think about Luigi’s Mansion, sign up to leave your thoughts or let me know on my social media.

Game Corner [Mario Month]: Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties. To commemorate Mario Day this year, March is once again “Mario Month” and I am spending every Thursday of this month celebrating everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber.

Released: 27 October 2017
Developer: Nintendo EPD

The Background:
After the videogame industry crumbled under the weight of numerous overpriced consoles and lacklustre titles, Nintendo basically single-handedly rebuilt the industry with the blockbuster success of Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 1985) and, following the “Console Wars” of the mid-nineties, Nintendo and their portly plumber continued to be an innovative and reliable staple of the videogame industry. On 3 March 2017, Nintendo struck again with their first high-definition console, the Nintendo Switch, an inventive little machine that could be played on the go or “docked” to play on televisions, with gamers using detachable “Joy-Cons” (with the usual motion control trappings Nintendo is now known for) to play. Accompanying this new console was an all-new Mario title, one that was aimed squarely on Mario’s long-term fans and would emphasise dense, open-world exploration over linear gameplay. To mix things up, producer Yoshiaki Koizumi aimed to have the player travel across multiple worlds (known as “Kingdoms”) and collect Power Moons instead of Power Stars, and to bolster Mario’s move set with Cappy, a mechanic specifically designed to incorporate the Switch’s unique control schemes. Upon release, Super Mario Odyssey received critical acclaim as critics lauded the game’s addictive gameplay, and originality, and it became a best-seller for Nintendo’s powerful little system.

The Plot:
Bowser, the King of the Koopas, has once again kidnapped Princess Peach and his underlings, the Broodals, have laid waste to the Bonneteer’s Cap Kingdom. Mario teams up with a Bonneteer, Cappy, a sentient hat who joins him on his quest to power up the Odyssey airship and chase after Bowser before he can force Peach into marriage!

Super Mario Odyssey is a 3D, semi-open world action/adventure with a heavy emphasis on platforming, exploration, and performing elaborate jump tricks to progress further and track down the game’s 880 (!) Power Moons. Although you only need 124 to finish the main story, and 500 to unlock every Kingdom in the game, you’ll quickly find that collecting Power Moons becomes an addictive and fun-filled adventure as you spend another ten, twenty, thirty minutes scouring the latest Kingdom for one more Power Moon. If you’ve played any of Mario’s 3D adventures before, you’ll be instantly familiar with Mario’s controls; for me, the game clearly draws inspiration from Mario’s moveset from Super Mario 64 (Nintendo EAD, 1996) and Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo EAD Tokyo, 2007) and Mario features all of his athletic abilities from those games. Players press A or B to jump; pressing either button in consecutive order will see Mario perform a triple jump to reach higher platforms, and he can crouch with ZL to enter small spaces or perform a backflip by pressing B. If you press ZL and B while running, you’ll fly ahead with a long jump, and pressing ZL and Y in mid-air will see him dive ahead. You can also perform a ground pound to flatten enemies or uncover secrets by jumping and pressing ZL (you can even press B as Mario hits the ground to spring up for a boost jump), perform side jumps, wall jumps, pick up and throw items, and swim through water by tapping B. While you can rotate the left stick to spin around and knock back enemies, you’ll notice that Mario can no longer punch or kick enemies; instead, you need to hop on their heads to defeat them or press X/Y/flick the Joy-Con to toss Cappy at enemies.

In addition to his athletic abilities, Mario can now possess enemies using his cap!

This will allow you “capture” certain enemies; sometimes, you’ll need to knock a hat or other headwear off their heads first, and not every enemy can be captured (and you can sometimes capture inanimate objects such as boulders and trees), but this is the game’s big new mechanic. Cappy can be used to uproot posts, collect Golden Coins, activate switches, clear away poisonous gunk, open doors, smash and hit brick blocks and ? blocks, and extend Mario’s jumps by holding Y to spin it in place. However, you can capture Goombas to walk along slippery surfaces without fear (and even stack them up to reach higher areas), frogs to leap to higher platforms, a fireball to safely pass through lava, and capture a spark pylon to travel across powerlines as a bolt of electricity. You can even capture bigger creatures, such as Chain Chomps that let you bash through blocks and a Tyrannosaurus rex to barge across the landscape (though this latter puts a great strain on Cappy). Capturing Bullet Bills lets you fly across the Kingdom for a short time, as do Paragoobas (though you need to tap B to keep these aloft), while Glydons let you glide across the landscape, Cheep Cheeps let you swim without far of drowning, and Uproots let you extend up to new areas. Moe-Eyes are slow but let you see hidden platforms, Wigglers let you stretch across gaps like a xylophone, Gushens let you blast up and across the area with temporary jets of water, and you can capture Hammer Bros, Yoshi, and even Bowser in the finale! You can press ZL at any time to return to normal, and often get a jump boost at the same time, and the enemy will temporarily remain nearby if you need to capture it again, but the capture mechanic really helps to expand your abilities and is essential to solving puzzles, reaching new areas, and finding more Power Moons so be sure to toss Cappy at everything you see.

Use the map’s warps to quick travel and help hunt down those many, varied, and elusive Power Moons.

Once again, Mario’s health is measured by a pie chart; you’ll need to collect Power Moons or life hearts to replenish Mario’ health, and can temporarily extend it up to six hearts like in Super Mario Galaxy, and you can open up the map screen with the – button to read up on the Kingdom and warp around the map to the checkpoint flags you’ve activated. Mario can take three hits before failing, but the life system has been abandoned. When you fall, land in instant-death gunk, or lose all your health, Mario will lose a number of his accumulated Coins and respawn back at the last checkpoint flag. Coins are also used as in-game currency and can be spent at shops in each Kingdom to purchase additional hearts, Power Moons, and outfits for Mario to wear; each Kingdom also has its own unique currency in the form of Purple Coins that can be used to buy regional outfits, stickers, and souvenirs. If you’re having a hard time with the game, you can activate “Assist Mode” to have arrows guide you along and bounce you back after a fall, but the game really isn’t too difficult for the most part so you shouldn’t really need this as various non-playable characters (NPCs), menu screens, Cappy, and tutorials are available to keep you on track. When you reach a Kingdom, you’ll be encouraged to explore high and low for Power Moons, which you can collect multiples of without having to restart the Kingdom. Some of these are hiding in plain sight, others require a bit of wall jumping or platforming, others need you to race across or up temporary platforms (sometimes without the benefit of Cappy) against a time limit, and others are hidden underneath bridges, behind walls, or even underground and require a ground pound to spit out. You’ll also come across rabbits that need to be caught, find Captain Toad hiding out in each Kingdom, race against Koopas, open chests (sometimes having to open them in the right order), destroy blocks or pillars, enter pipes and cross spinning or moving platforms, blossom flowers, herd sheep, pace walk across arrows, and complete picture puzzles to collect additional Power Moons.

Power Moons are everywhere, and many require you to go old-school to track them down!

Power Moons can also be bought, assembled by collecting Moon Pieces, spawned by collecting musical notes against a time limit, navigating mazes, finding hidden areas using Cappy, activating scarecrows to take on timed platforming challenges, rocketing up to new areas, playing a Slots game, and clearing away snow, gunk, or enemies and blast open cages to find even more Power Moons. “P” switches will activate temporary platforms or bridges, the Switch will rumble when you’re over secrets to indicate a ground pound, and you’ll need to capture and stack up multiple Goombas to activate pressure pads. Sometimes a vulture will steal Cappy from you, meaning you’ll need to chase after it and lure it near to columns that you can raise up by ground pounding a neighbouring column to knock Cappy loose. You’ll also need to plant seeds to grow vines to reach new areas, enter pictures to warp to secret, far away areas of the game’s Kingdoms, and capture puzzle pieces to solve puzzles. Thankfully, there are no sections of the game that require the use of the Switch’s motion controls; you can even turn these off at the main menu, and the motion controls are nicely focused on giving the console a shake to boost Mario’s speed or attacks in certain situations. The story also quickly offers the choice to travel to different Kingdoms and back so you can explore and play the game at your own pace. The hunt for Power Moons will be where you’ll find the bulk of the game’s variety, as you’ll often have to capture a variety of enemies or objects or use your jumping abilities in interesting ways to clamber over the environment and find hidden areas. You can even enter the iconic Mario pipes and pop out in 2D areas that harken back to Mario’s 8-bit routes and see you hopping onto or over enemies and fireballs, traversing ledges and girders, and collecting Coins and Power Moons and bringing you out to new areas.

Graphics and Sound:
Super Mario Odyssey is easily the most colourful, charming, and graphically advanced Super Mario title I’ve played so far. As is always the case, cutscenes play out using a mixture of gibberish, limited sound bites, and subtitles but the body language of Mario, Bowser, and Peach make these perfectly adorable and there’s very little, if any, distinction between the in-game graphics and the few cinematic sequences. While there are some noticeable loading times, especially when travelling between worlds in the story mode, most of these seem to be purposely implemented as an excuse to have Cappy give players a quick rundown on Mario’s abilities as you can eventually skip these sequences with the + button. Mario, especially, looks at his very best; his cap lifts off his head when he jumps, he gets covered in ash when burned, and has a number of idle animations (falling asleep in most Kingdoms, sweating in others, or shivering when cold) and is full of life and charm, which is good as he’s the only character you’ll be playing as this time around. For a sentient cap, Cappy is surprisingly full of life as well; occasionally, he’ll hop off your head to deliver hints and his big, cartoonish eyes make him very expressive.

Each Kingdom is brought to life in stunning detail and has lots to see and do.

As you might expect from a Super Mario title, the game is full of unique and interesting locations to visit; you start off in the Cap Kingdom, which has been covered in ash from Bowser’s attacks and is full of large hat-like structures and a thick fog that masks a death pit. You’ll then travel to thirteen additional Kingdoms, each one sporting their own unique trappings, currency, and Power Moon designs; you’ll hop around waterfalls and prehistoric terrain in the Cascade Kingdom, cross a vast, scorching desert in the Sand Kingdom, and explore the depths of the coral-like Lake Kingdom in your search for Power Moons. In the Wooded Kingdom, you’ll find a great forest, dark undergrowth, and an overgrown factory while poisonous lakes and large tropical trees await you in the Lost Kingdom. You can also briefly travel to the upper atmosphere above the clouds in the Cloud Kingdom and battle Bowser’s vicious dragon in the medieval ruins of the Ruined Kingdom, brave an aggressive blizzard in the Snow Kingdom, and explore the beach at the Seaside Kingdom. Upon first visiting many of the Kingdoms, you’ll find the region in a state of chaos that must be addressed by defeating a boss; this will calm the blizzard in Snow Kingdom, for example, and restore power to Metro Kingdom.

The game’s visual style and presentation is top-notch and full of humour and colour.

Metro Kingdom is probably the area most familiar to people since it featured heavily in the game’s advertising; New Donk City is a massive city full of skyscrapers, construction sites, realistic NPCs, and numerous references to the Super Mario franchise and, more specifically, the Donkey Kong franchise (Nintendo R&D1/Various, 1981 to present). Not only does Pauline make a long-awaited return to the series but you can even race across an expanded 2D section that is a fantastic call-back to Donkey Kong (Nintendo R&D1, 1981) and many of the street names, business, and billboards directly reference characters or locations from the franchise. The Luncheon Kingdom is probably the game’s quirkiest area as it’s populated by anthropomorphic cutlery and a veritable explosion of vivid colours and giant foods, while Bower’s Kingdom is fittingly the largest and most dangerous area in the game and draws its aesthetic inspiration from Japanese temples. The finale takes place in the Moon Kingdom, where gravity is much lighter and allows you to jump much higher and fall much slower; while the surface of the Moon is a barren wasteland, you’ll find an ornate church there and battle your way through a lava-and-trap-filled cavern to reach your final confrontation with Bowser. After besting the Koopa King, you get to travel to the Mushroom Kingdom, which is both a loving recreation and an extension of the same area from Super Mario 64, featuring paintings, Toads galore, and even Power Stars replacing the Power Moons. Each area is further bolstered by remixes and recreations of classic Super Mario tracks, and even a catchy vocal tune, “Jump Up Super Star!”, by Kate Higgins.

Enemies and Bosses:
Long-time fans of the series can rejoice here as many of Mario’s most famous enemies make a return in Super Mario Odyssey, and can even be controlled thanks to Cappy; you’ll bounce off Goombas and Paragoombas, stretch across gaps as Wiggler, smash trough blocks with Chain Chomps, barge through obstacles as Chargin’ Chuck, and hop on Koopa Troopas and use their shells to smash apart blocks. There are also some new enemies to be found here, such as the Trapbeetle (which captures Cappy when he’s thrown at him and charges at you, but you can use this to clear blocks from your path), the Stairface Ogre (who tries to squash you with a giant mallet but leaves itself vulnerable and allows you to reach higher ledges), Sherms (tanks that are great fun to take control of), Pokios (needle-nosed birds that let you awkwardly climb up and across the walls of Bowser’s Kingdom), and Chinchos (mummy-like creatures that Cappy simply passes tough harmlessly). Many of these can be captured and used to your advantage, but many more will also respawn, especially if you need to capture them to progress, and while they’re all pretty goofy and simple to get around, you’ll also find them placed in precarious positions or in large numbers as the game progresses, which helps keep the game’s difficulty nicely balanced. To restore each Kingdom or solve problems for the NPCs, you’ll have to battle a few bosses; defeating these earns you a “Multi Moon” that counts as three Power Moons. Although each Kingdom features at least one boss, the game does reuse and recycle these for other Kingdoms and boss rushes, the most obvious cases being that of the Broodals.

You’ll battle the Broodals on multiple occasions, with the bouts being a bit tougher the next time around.

These mean little bunnies replace Bowser’s usual Koopalings and are each fought at three separate points throughout the game, with the battles getting tougher each time. Topper bounces around and is protected by his green top hats; you must throw Cappy at him to knock these off and avoid being hit by them as they ricochet around so you can bounce on his head. As the fight progresses, more hats come into play and Topper swings them around to try and hit you as well. Harriet’s head is protected by a spiked helmet and she tosses explosive maces at you that you can hit away with Cappy, but they leave temporary flaming puddle son the floor. When she tries to crush you with the maces on her pigtails, you can smack these back to stun her, and you can also knock her out of the air when she withdraws into her helmet by hitting the bombs she drops. Spewart protects himself by spraying poison gunk all over the place, but you can use Cappy to clean it up and stun him, and to knock him away when he retreats into his hat and leave a trail of the muck in his wake. Rango tosses his sawblade-like hat at you from afar, but you can flip them over with Cappy and use them as a trampoline to twirl onto his head; as the fight progresses, Rango tosses more hats and also hops around trying to hit you, and you’ll have to battle each of the Broodals again in Bowser’s Kingdom and in succession in a gruelling gauntlet on the Dark Side of the Moon Kingdom.

You’ll need to make use of Cappy’s capture abilities to take out the game’s large, colourful bosses.

You’ll encounter the Broodals’ mother, Madame Broode, in the Cascade Kingdom; this rotund bunny sends her golden Chain Chompkin after you, but you can easily avoid it, knock its hat off, and capture it to launch it back at her. Although she tries to swipe at you, and more hats are added to later bouts, it’s pretty easy to stay out of her way and knock her on her ass. In the Sand Kingdom, you’ll find Knucklotec, a statue-like head who tries to crush you with its fists. However, you can trick it into hitting ice so you can capture its fist and fly it right into its face, but you’ll have to watch out for the projectiles it shoots out to protect itself. Torkdrift, a large UFO, awaits in the Wooded Kingdom; luckily, there are Uproots nearby for you to capture and stretch up into Torkdrift’s glass underbelly, but you’ll have to dodge the shockwaves it sends out and the flaming lasers it fires, and smash through thick blocks to flip it over and deliver additional damage to it. After unsuccessfully trying to attack Bowser’s airship, you’ll fall into the Ruined Kingdom and face off with the Ruined Dragon, a massive beast that sends out rings of lightning; when it collapses from exhaustion, you have a brief window of opportunity to hop onto its head, remove the stakes from its skull, and ground pound its weak spot but its attacks will become more aggressive and harder to dodge as the fight goes on.

Bosses become very creative, and are made tougher when you fight them again in the Mushroom Kingdom.

The latter Kingdoms offer some of the more interesting boss battles; Metro Kingdom’s Mechwiggler clambers about on the side of a building firing energy bolts at you and charging at you through portals, but you can pilot a Sherm to blast its glowing weak spots and deal big damage to it, and you’ll have to battle two at once in the Mushroom Kingdom rematch. Similarly, you’ll need to capture a Gushen to chase after and defeat the Seaside Kingdom boss, Mollusque-Lanceur, a giant octopus that floats around the beach (or above the clouds in the rematch) firing torpedos and spiked bombs. However, he’s vulnerable on his head so you can jet after him with Y and gush water down onto him with B once you’re hovering over him. In the Luncheon Kingdom, you’ll do battle with Cookatiel in a giant stew pot; Cookatiel spits vegetables as projectiles, but also spews up a stream of vomit that you can travel up as a fireball to bounce on his head. Each of these bosses is fought again by jumping into paintings in the Mushroom Kingdom, and the battles are made harder by the presence of additional enemies and hazards, less health items, bottomless spits, and more aggressive attacks from the bosses.

Topple the Broodals’ mech, then put a beating on Bowser and take control of the Koopa King to save the day.

Before you can finally face off against Bowser, you’ll have to battle the Broodals once again, this time in a giant mech! To defeat the RoboBrood, you’ll need to avoid the bombs it throws out and capture a Pokio to hit them back at its feet, toppling it over and leaving it vulnerable for you to fling yourself up and attack each of the Broodals’ pods. The RoboBrood becomes temporarily invincible after each pod is destroyed, targets you more directly, and it gets harder to scale it with each hit as well. Bowser himself is also fought twice, once in the Cloud Kingdom and again in the Moon Kingdom (and a third time at the end of the super-hard Darker Side of the Moon Kingdom). Both times, you must toss Cappy at his top hat to flip it over and take possession of it; you must then hop over the shockwaves caused by his jumps, avoid or punch away the rocks he throws at you, and put a beating on him when he’s stunned. As the fight progresses, Bowser jumps faster, throws more projectiles, defends himself from your punches and tries to swipe at you with his tail, and spews out flames in anger, but he’s not particularly difficult to best in the main encounters. After defeating him, you’ll need to capture him to use his massive claws to escape, which is pretty fun (if harrowing because of the temporary platforms).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Mario’s primary power-up is his ability to capture enemies and other objects with Cappy; this allows you to leap higher, protects you from lava, activates switches, allows you to flip, fly, or travel to new areas, and is crucial to solving some of the game’s puzzles and tracking down the Power Moons. There are, however, other power-ups you can find in each Kingdom; bubbles will restore your air meter when swimming, Life-Up Hearts temporarily add three extra hits to your life meter, Keys unlock additional Power Moons, scooters and catapults will allow you to travel quickly across areas, and Rocket Flowers let Mario blast ahead, and up sharp inclines, with a burst of speed but at the cost of his manoeuvrability.

Purchase collectibles and new outfits using your Coins.

Although there are no extra life mushrooms, cap power-ups, leaves, or invincibilities in the game, you can capture Yoshi in the Mushroom Kingdom and use his flutter jump and long tongue to eat fruit, and you can also spend your Coins on stickers to adorn the Odyssey with, souvenirs to fill it with, and outfits to change Mario’s appearance. Each Kingdom has one door that is blocked to you unless you buy and wear the regional outfit, but otherwise these are purely cosmetic items to wear. However, the range of them is quite impressive: you can dress up as Doctor Mario, Luigi, Waluigi, Wario, and even Diddy Kong; wear Mario’s Hawaiian shirt, his spacesuit, and even be rendered as his polygonal model from Super Mario 64 or in blocky 8-bits. You can dress up in the Broodals’ outfits, wear Peach’s wedding dress, and even mix and match the head wear with the clothing to create bizarre combinations. Sadly, though, these are simply costumes rather than new skins and the only character you’ll ever play as is Mario, which is a shame considering Luigi was playable in Super Mario Galaxy.

Additional Features:
With nearly 900 Power Moons to collect, you’ll never be short on things to do in Super Mario Odyssey. After you defeat Bowser, you can travel to the Mushroom Kingdom to find more Power Moons (this time rendered as Power Stars), rebattle the game’s bosses, and be awarded additional Power Moons for completing Toadette’s objectives. You can also return to the previous Kingdoms to track down Princess Peach for another Power Moon and break open Moon Rocks and access tough platforming or puzzle sections for additional Power Moons, and cause even more Power Moons to be spread across each Kingdom. You can keep track of these in the – menu by reviewing your lists, and once you have powered up the Odyssey with 250 and then 500 Power Moons, you’ll unlock two new areas of the Moon Kingdom.

There’s still lots to do, find, and challenge yourself with after beating the main story.

Dark Side has you scaling a tower and battling the Broodals in a tough gauntlet with no checkpoints or health power-ups between or during the bout, and the Darker Side is home to the game’s most challenging, and frustrating, course as you must cross lava, avoiding spikes, fireballs, and all manner of hazards and obstacles in a true test of you skills. Furthermore, players can find Luigi in each Kingdom and take on the Balloon World mini game, which is basically an online version of hide-and-seek and has you racing to locate balloons and comparing your time and scores with other players. The game can also be played in a rudimentary two-player mode where one player controls Mario and the other controls a captured enemy, and you can also use Amiibos and the Switch’s snapshot feature to find additional hints or unlock costumes, respectively.

The Summary:
I was actually very surprised by how much I enjoyed Super Mario Odyssey. I had heard so much about the game since it first released, all of it nothing but praise, and it was getting to the point where the game felt a little overhyped to me. Once I got a Nintendo Switch, I knew that the game was going to be a must-have for my collection, but I was a little apprehensive as I have a bit of an odd relationship with Super Mario games. However, it didn’t take long for my worries to be completely set aside; Super Mario Odyssey harkens back to the days when games could be played in fun-filled little bursts and its addictive gameplay and eye-catching visuals make it a title that’s simple to pick up and hard as hell to put down. The game gets progressively more challenging as you progress and visit new Kingdoms, but it’s never unfair or punishing and any mishaps you might make simply come down to a mistake on your part rather than due to a janky camera or controls. Mario’s athletic prowess and the additional abilities afforded to him by Cappy mean that there is always another way, or multiple ways, to accomplish tasks, explore further, or obtain Power Moons and the sheer amount of options available to you is impressive, but never too daunting. Colourful, endlessly entertaining, and fun from start to finish, Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic entry in the franchise; I loved the call-backs to Super Mario 64, particularly the rendition of the Mushroom Kingdom, and all the outfits available to you (though it was disappointing to only be able to play as Mario again). The Kingdoms were all fun and unique areas, finding Power Moons was a great little distraction, and the bosses were enjoyable little challenges that never outstayed their welcome. There’s something on offer here for players of all skill levels, from beginners to advanced players who fancy tackling the super-tough optional areas, and I found myself having a great time from start to finish.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Have you every played Super Mario Odyssey ? If so, did you enjoy it and how do you think it compares to other 3D Mario titles? Which of the game’s Kingdoms was your favourite? What did you think to Cappy and the capture mechanic, and which enemy was your favourite to take possession of? Did you enjoy collecting Power Moons or were you a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount to find? What did you think to the game’s bosses and the Broodals? Did you ever best the Dark and Darker Side of the Moon Kingdom? Which outfit was your favourite and would you have liked to see skins or other playabale characters? Whatever your thoughts on the Mario’s cap-based adventure, feel free to sign up and leave a comment below or leave a comment on my social media.

Game Corner [Zelda Day]: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Nintendo Switch)

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: 20 September 2019
Originally Released: 6 June 1993
Developer: Grezzo
Original Developer: Nintendo EAD
Also Available For: Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console (Original/DX release)

The Background:
As some of you may be aware, my very first introduction to the Legend of Zelda series (Nintendo EAD/Various, 1986) was with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (ibid, 1993) on the original Game Boy. Beginning as an unsanctioned side project of programmer Kazuaki Morita and evolving from a desire to port the incredibly successful Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (ibid, 1991), it was incredibly impressive how the developers were able to cram so much into such a small cartridge. Link’s Awakening was critically acclaimed and is widely considered to be one of the best Game Boy titles ever released. The game received a slightly enhanced colour upgrade on the Game Boy Color in 1998, which was also received very well, but I was stunned when Nintendo announced an all-new, high definition remake for the Switch in 2019 as the game always felt like more of a cult favourite compared to other mainstream Zelda titles. The Switch remake of Link’s Awakening was spearheaded by Grezzo, the development team who had ported and enhanced Zelda’s Nintendo 64 efforts to the Nintendo 3DS, and the team immediately sought to separate the game from other Zelda titles by not only returning to the classic top-down perspective but adopting a quasi-isometric, diorama-inspired look that made the entire game appear to be constructed out of plasticine figures. Upon release, Link’s Awakening was met with glowing reviews as critics praised the visual presentation, music, and quality of life improvements; it was also the fastest-selling Switch game of 2019 and scored very highly across the board, assuring that Link’s Awakening was finally recognised as one of the best Zelda titles out there.

The Plot:
After defeating the dark wizard Ganon and rescuing Princess Zelda, Link embarks on a quest across the sea in search of enlightenment and ends up caught in a terrible storm and washing up on the shores of the mysterious Koholint Island. Link finds the island tormented by monsters who are the creation of the malevolent “Shadow Nightmares”, a dark entity who will do anything to keep the legendary Wind Fish from waking. However, Link takes up his sword and shield to oppose Nightmare, only to discover that not everything is as it seems on the all-too-familiar Koholint Island…

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a top-down (well, more like a slightly isometric) action/adventure role-playing title in which players are placed into the familiar green hat and tunic of Link, the long-running protagonist of the series. As is the case in many Zelda titles, you can customise Link’s name at the file select screen; you get three save files (and a temporary autosave file) that you can personalise, and characters will refer to you by that name throughout the story. For those keeping track, this is the same Link who starred in A Link to the Past, making Link’s Awakening one of the rare Zelda titles to feature the same Link, and which possibly explains the many similarities between the two titles. Link begins the game with three hearts representing his health and stripped of his sword, shield, and all of his recognisable weapons but is quickly provided with his trusty shield, with is mapped to the ZR button and allows him to block incoming attacks and push through certain enemies. You’re then tasked with using the shield to head down to the beach and retrieve your sword, which is mapped to the B button; you can tap B to swipe at enemies or hold the button to charge up Link’s trademark Spin Attack, which sees him spin around in a circle and damage any nearby enemies once the button is released. Link can also pick up and throw certain items and objects (such as Cukkos and, later, pots), using the A button but he’ll need to journey to a whopping nine dungeons to retrieve the rest of his gear and further explore the mysterious Koholint Island.

After acquiring his sword, Link sets out on a new adventure fill with hijinx and dangers.

Along the way, Link will encounter a number of non-playable characters (NPCs), most of whom offer hints about where to go next, ask for specific items to be brought to them as part of the elaborate trading sequence, or comment on the events happening in the game or on the island in general. Some will actually follow you around, which becomes necessary to enter specific dungeons; a blue-hued rooster will follow you and allow you to fly over gaps to reach the Eagle’s Tower, for example, a ghost will start to follow you and eventually gift you an empty bottle, and Link’s saviour, Marin, will accompany him to move a walrus out of the way and let him access Yarna Desert. Not all NPCs are entirely harmless, though; attack Cukkos or dogs and they’ll hit you back, you’ll need to use a Chain Chomp to navigate through the Gopongo Swamp, and the shopkeeper will electrocute you to death and you’ll be branded a “THIEF” for the rest of the game if you steal from him. As mentioned, Link’s health is measured in hearts; as you explore, you may find Heart Pieces hidden in caves, buried underground, under water, or generally strewn around the environment. Collect four of these, and your maximum health will be refilled, and you’ll automatically gain an extra heart after defeating each dungeon’s Nightmare boss. Unlike a number of other Zelda games, players don’t need to worry about a magic gauge in Link’s Awakening; instead, there’s a greater emphasis on collecting Rupees, the currency in the Zelda franchise, in order to purchase additional items, objects for the trading sequence, and even collectibles such as Heart Pieces. Rupees are primarily found by slashing grass, defeating enemies, digging in the ground, and opening treasure chests and Link appears to be able to hold 9999 Rupees, so you don’t need to worry about upgrading his wallet or anything. I tend to spend my time in Zelda games furiously swiping at grass and defeating onscreen enemies, so I’m used to collecting as many Rupees as possible, but other players may find it a bit tedious, though it’s absolutely necessary if you want to progress because you need the shovel and the bow in order to access later areas and you’ll never collect everything the game has to offer without paying money for some of them first.

Koholint Island is huge and full of pick-ups, warps, NPCs, and enemies.

You can jump to the equipment subscreen at any time with the + button; here, you can view key items you’ve collected and assign two items from your inventory to the X and Y buttons, save or load your game, or flick over to the map screen (which can also be accessed with -) to plot a route to your next destination. The map is initially shrouded in fog but more of it is revealed as you explore, and you can use pins in to set reminders for yourself; Link can also review “memories” from this screen, which allow you to re-read advice from the mysterious Owl and certain previous conversations so you know where you’ve been and get some idea of where to go next. The Owl will appear in key areas across the overworld offering hints and encouragement, and you can call Ulrira in Mabe Village for further hints, but you’re basically free to explore at your leisure. You won’t be able to access certain areas without weapons or items from dungeons, though, and generally you need to tackle the dungeons in a specific order so that you can access the next, but your journey across Koholint Island eventually gets easier as you defeat the Nightmare bosses. Initially, you won’t be able to lift rocks, clear gaps, or swim, for example, but you’ll acquire the tools necessary to overcome these obstacles in the dungeons; similarly, you can activate fast travel warp points and, later, learn a song for your ocarina that will enable you to use these freely.

Dungeons are filled with puzzles, some simple like pushing blocks and others more frustrating.

Still, the game doesn’t make too much of an effort to hold your hand and it can be tricky to figure out where to go next, meaning that you have to be a little proactive to figure things out and experiment a bit. This is especially true in the game’s dungeons, which can be quite labyrinthine and see you travelling between different floors and acquiring small keys to unlock doors. Each dungeon has a compass and a map that will greatly assist with your progress; these allow you to see all possible routes and even indicate when there’s a chest or item in a room, but they’re often locked behind a series of puzzles. These may be as simple as stepping or pushing a block on a switch, pulling a pulley, pushing blocks together, or defeating all onscreen enemies but they get tougher as the game progresses. Sometimes you’ll have to defeat enemies in a specific order, or guide a pathmaker around to create temporary paths, or pick up and throw a weighted ball into columns, or toss some chess pieces in just the right way so they land in specific spots (a very frustrating mechanic, for sure). Sometimes, rooms and hidden passageways are hidden behind breakable walls (which must be exploded with bombs) or rocks (which must be lifted up) both in dungeons and on the overworld; other times, you’ll need to hunt down specific items or work through a looping maze in the right order, and you can even increase the game’s challenge by playing in “Hero” mode from the file select screen (which sees you taking twice as much damage and losing the benefit of enemies dropping hearts).

Graphics and Sound:
Honestly, screenshots do not do this game justice; the plastic figurine look used to bring this world to life is absolutely amazing and I find it such an adorable, whimsical stylistic choice that really makes everything vivid and charming to behold. The soundtrack is equally imaginative, composed primarily of woodwind instruments and flutes and such, and adds a lot of appeal to the game and even features a bit of the classic chip-tune music in the credits, which was a nice touch. You know things are kicking up a notch after Link acquires his sword and Koji Kondo’s iconic Zelda theme kicks in, but each area is brought to life as much by the music as the attractive visual style of the game and all of the characters and models are full of visual quirks and charming little animations that just make the game a joy to play and look at.

The game’s visual style and variety is charming and gorgeous, and it even includes some anime cutscenes.

Koholint Island is quite a large area for Link to explore and full of many of the usual Zelda environments and trappings; he begins in a quiet little village and journeys to a desert, a crumbling tower, a boulder-strewn mountain top, and a desolate swamp while traversing a vast field peppered with enemies, obstacles, and such sights as a graveyard, bridges, a castle, and a foggy forest. Contrary to the original title, and other top-down Zelda titles at the time, the entire overworld is connected without any screen transitions unless you enter a building or cave, which really helps speed traversal up and makes the world feel interconnected and alive. Some NPCs will relocate as the story progresses, which is fun, and you’ll often be required to take the long way around to reach some of the dungeons (especially in the first instance), though the interiors of the dungeons are often somewhat interchangeable. This isn’t always the case, of course; Bottle Grotto (fittingly) contains a lot of bottles), Catfish’s Maw and Angler’s Tunnel veer more towards water elements and puzzles, and Turtle Rock features and abundance of lava, and you’ll notice more and more maze-like elements as the difficulty of the dungeons progresses. Every dungeon also features at least one 2.5D sidescrolling area that sees you using ladders, moving platforms, and the Roc’s Feather to hop around in short platforming sections and the game is opened and ended by some beautiful (if very brief) anime cutscenes, and while there is no voice acting, sound bites and voice clips accompany both Link’s attacks and reactions and the in-game text boxes.

Enemies and Bosses:
Koholint Island is inhabited by a number of recognisable Zelda enemies and traps that will constantly try to impede Link’s quest; you’ll encounter stone-spitting Octorocs, spider-like Tektites, and annoying Zora’s will pop out of water to fire projectiles at you. Zols often appear in dungeons, with the red variants multiplying with each hit, bat-like Keese and the snake-like Ropes often appear in caves, and you’ll even encounter a number of enemies that can’t be traditionally bested. Most of your enemies can be dispatched with just one swipe of your sword, but others require a bit more strategy: the Moblins and Darknuts will defend against your attacks with their shields and must be stunned by deflecting their sword swipes, Spiny Beetles and Helmasaurs must have their rocks and masks removed to better attack them, and the Pols Voice can’t be damaged by your sword at all. Oddly, Link’s Awakening contains a number of enemies from the Super Mario franchise (Various, 1983 to present): Thwomps, Bob-ombs, Goombas, and Shy Guys are all over the place, and you’ll even come across an evil version of Kirby!

A number of mini bosses must be defeated to activate warp points ad acquire new weapons.

Each dungeon, and certain other areas in the game, features at least one mini boss; defeating these will activate a warp point in the dungeon and often leads to you acquiring the weapon or item necessary to defeating the Nightmare boss. These range from larger versions of regular enemies, such as the Moblin Chief and Armos Knight, and familiar Zelda enemies like the Master Stalfos (who must be damaged with bombs when reduced to a pile of bones) and Gohma (who can only be damaged by firing arrows into their open eyes. The most recurring of these is the golem-like Hinox, which will grapple you or throw bombs your way, but are easily defeated with your trusty sword, and you’ll sometimes have to battle more than one in the later dungeons. Often, these require a little more strategy than the average enemy; you need to jump over the Spike Roller’s spiked pole to get to him, toss bombs into the Dodongo Snakes’ mouths, and can only defeat Rover by throwing its weighted ball back at it, but you’re usually rewarded with a life-restoring fairy for your efforts (to say nothing of the extra weapons).

After a simple first boss, you’ll need to use Link’s new weapons and be adaptable to triumph.

Each dungeon contains a magical instrument that is guarded by one of eight Nightmares; often, the key to defeating the Nightmare will lie in the weapon you acquire in that dungeon, and each one gets progressively difficult as you journey on. The first boss, Moldorm, is a walk in the park: this worm-like creature randomly pulsates around the enclosed arena and can only be hurt by hitting the glowing weak spot on its tail, which will send it into a frenzy and cause it to become more and more aggressive as the fight progresses. In the Bottle Grotto, you’ll battle the clown-like Genie, who tosses fireballs at you and hides in his bottle to avoid your attacks. You’ll need to grab the bottle and throw it against the wall to crack and, eventually break it, then swipe at Genie when it becomes corporeal to finish it off. The Slime Eye at the end of Key Cavern requires use of the Pegasus Boots to split it in two so you can swipe at its eye, but the two gooey monsters will drop down from the ceiling to either land on you or stun you with a shockwave, making them tricky to land a hit on at times. The fearsome Angler Fish is fought in a 2.5D perspective and underwater, meaning that your movements are as limited as your attack options; you’ll need to swim your way past the debris it drops from the ceiling, fending off its smaller minions as you try and swipe at the glowing tendril on its head.

Bosses get increasingly tougher as the game progresses but are generally not too challenging.

Probably one of the more difficult bosses for me was the Slime Eel; this fight is complicated by a mace-like tentacle in the middle of the stage that you must jump over as you try and snag the boss’s head with your hookshot and expose its weak spot. Facade can also be a bit tricky; this gigantic face leers at you from the floor and causes tiles and pots to fly at you from all around the room and can only be damaged by placing bombs on it while watching for the holes it causes to form in the arena. When you finally manage to reach the top of Eagle’s Tower (easily one of the game’s more obtuse and annoying dungeons), you’ll battle the Evil Eagle; this giant bird hovers just out of reach and tries to skewer you with feathers, charges at you with its beak, and flaps its wings to try and force you from the platform and to the spikes below. Thankfully, it’s easy enough to shield against his attacks and toss your boomerang up at him, or fire off arrows and swipe at him as he flies past trying to attack you. The final dungeon is guarded by  Hot Head, an anthropomorphic fireball that emerges from a lava pit to blast molten rock at you, and which can only be damaged with the Magic Rod. Once you’ve blasted away its outer shell, it’ll bounce all around the arena trying to pummel you to death, but is easily finished off if you keep your wits about you.

The game’s final boss assumes many forms, with some representing the game’s toughest challenge.

Once you’ve acquired all of the magical instruments, you can scale Mount Tamaranch to play the “Ballad of the Wind Fish” on your ocarina and gain access to the Wind Fish’s Egg; however, this final dungeon is a looping maze that you’ll never be able to navigate without completing the trading sequence and acquiring the magnifying glass to read a book in the Mabe Village library that has directions to the final boss. Shadow Nightmares is easily, and fittingly, the toughest boss in the game and boasts six distinct forms: the first is a giant Zol that bounces and materialises around the arena and can only be damaged by sprinkling Magic Powder on it. Next, the boss assumes the form of Araghim from A Link to the Past and is battled in very much the same way; Araghim teleports around and fires two types of projectiles at you, one that explodes in your face and one a fireball that can be smacked back to damage him. Afterwards, the boss becomes a shadow version of Moldorm, which is a bit of a let-down, but it more than makes up for it by assuming the form of Ganon! Hands down the hardest fight in the game, Ganon twirls his trident and fires flaming bats at you before tossing his trident your way, giving you a very limited window to loop around behind him or charge into him with your sword. The next form is simply a Lanmola that cannot be damaged by your sword but only needs to be hit once with another weapon to force the boss into its final, truest form: Dethl. A large, shadow, pulsating mass sporting two mace-like tentacles, Dethl isn’t really too difficult to defeat; simply jump over its arms and fire arrows into its big green eye when it opens and the Shadow Nightmares will finally be destroyed, the Wind Fish will awaken, and Koholint Island will disappear forever.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned, it doesn’t take too long for Link to reacquire his traditional sword and shield, and as you progress through the game’s dungeons you’ll acquire a number of recognisable weapons and items to add to Link’s arsenal, such as the Power Bracelet to lift items (and the Powerful Bracelet to lift even larger items), the hookshot to stun enemies from a distance and cross certain gaps using stones and other specific parts of the environment, bombs to blast open walls and defeat groups of enemies, bottles to store life-restoring fairies, and an ocarina that is useful for accessing certain areas, warping across the map, and accessing the final boss.

Link can acquire some familiar weapons and even pick-up temporary power-ups.

Other pivotal items include the shovel (which is necessary for digging up collectibles), the traditional boomerang (which can only be acquired through the trading sequence), and the bow (which must be purchased). Magic Powder allows you to damage certain enemies and light fires (but becomes completely redundant once you acquire the Magic Rod), you can fire bomb arrows by equipping the bow and the bombs at the same times, the Mirror Shield lets you reflect lasers and certain projectiles, and the Roc’s Feather allows you to jump. The Pegasus Boots let you charge ahead (and can be used in conjunction with the Roc’s Feather to clear longer gaps), the flippers let you swim and dive under water, and you can sometimes find Secret Medicine to restore your health upon death. Additionally, you’ll sometimes come across temporary power-ups: the Guardian Acorn and Piece of Power will temporarily reduce the amount of damage you take and increase your attack power, respectively, which can be super useful in certain situations.

Additional Features:
There are thirty-two pieces of heart to find scattered throughout Koholint Island’s overworld, which will increase your health up to twenty hearts; sometimes you’ll dig these up or knock them out of trees, other times you can buy or find them in hidden caves or under water and such, and other times you can play for them in mini games. These include a mechanical claw game and a fishing game, both found in Mabe Village and costing you some Rupees to play; manoeuvring the claw and landing a big fish can be a bit tricky, but it’ll grant you an extra bottle, Heart Piece, ammo and Rupees, items for the trading sequence and a number of Secret Seashells. There are fifty Secret Seashells to find, and it’s well worth your time seeking them out with your shovel, lifting rocks, and exploring with your different weapons and items as they can be cashed in at the Seashell Mansion to gift you with a sensor that alerts you when they’re closer and a more powerful sword that fires out an energy beam when your hearts are full. As alluded to, there’s a lengthy trading sequence that’s necessary to acquire the boomerang and navigate to the final boss; this sees you acquiring specific key items (such as bananas, a Yoshi doll, and a magnifying lens) and bringing them to specific NPCs to swap for another item, which is a fun little distraction that gives you an excuse to talk to as many characters as possible.

Search for Seashells, switch to a new tunic, and create your own dungeons!

There are also figurines to collect and place on certain stands in houses (though I was only able to find two) and the Color Dungeon from the GameBoy Color version is also present. This optional, additional dungeon can be missed but it’s well worth your time seeking out as, once you best its enemies and puzzles, and defeat the gigantic Hardhit Beetle, you’ll be able to pick from either a blue or red runic to increase your defence or attack power, respectively (personally, I chose the red tunic as I’m a more offensive player). Finally, there’s a new addition to the game in the form of Chamber Stones; these must be brought to Dampé, who will challenge you to create custom dungeons by mixing and matching rooms, puzzles, sub-bosses, and bosses from the game’s existing dungeons. Each time you beat a regular dungeon, and Dampé’s tutorials, you’ll gain additional Chamber Stones, +Effect Panels, and collectibles and it’s quite a fun little addition since you can create your own dungeons to play through and challenge others to complete.

The Summary:
Even after all this time, I still adore The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening; it was the first Zelda game I ever played and owned, and I used to enjoy playing through it on the old GameBoy brick even before I picked up the Virtual Console version of the GameBoy Color deluxe version, so I was super excited to hear that it was being completely rebuilt for the Nintendo Switch. This new version is everything the original game was but rendered in such gorgeous detail that it’s so much more than just a throwback to a simpler time of Zelda videogames; the plastic figurine aesthetic is charming and whimsical and I’d love to see it evoked for future recreations of older Zelda titles, and it may very well be the most visually appealing game I’ve played on the Nintendo Switch so far (and yes, that includes it’s bigger and more expansive cousin). It’s amazing how big Link’s Awakening is; it definitely feels like there’s more in this version of the game, but the developers didn’t add any new dungeons or areas or anything (which is a bit of a shame, to be honest). It’s just that big of a game, which just makes the original seem even more impressive in hindsight. There’s loads to do and keep you busy here, from backtracking to previous areas, to hunting down collectibles, to completing the trading sequence and, of course, tackling the game’s dungeons, and the game is just the right level of challenge; some puzzles and dungeons are trickier and tougher than others, but that’s par for the course of a Zelda title. Honestly, it’s worth picking up for the gorgeous graphical style and music as much as the engaging, classic Zelda gameplay and I can only hope that Nintendo revisit some of Link’s earlier adventures in the same way going forward.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Have you played this new version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening? How do you feel it compares to the original and its colourised counterpart and where would you rank it amongst all the other Zelda titles, specifically the 2D adventures? Were you a fan of the more surreal narrative elements in the game, and the difficulty and challenge it offered? Which of the dungeons and Nightmares was your most, or least, favourite? Were you able to navigate the Wind Fish’s Egg without directions? Did you ever steal from the shopkeeper? Were you able to find all of the Secret Seashells? Which Zelda game is your favourite and how are you celebrating the franchise today? Whatever your thoughts on Link’s Awakening, sign up to leave a comment below, or let me know on my social media.

Game Corner [DK’s Day]: Donkey Kong (Nintendo Switch)

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-of and to say: Happy birthday, Donkey Kong!

Released: September 2018
Originally Released: 15 July 1983
Developer: Nintendo R&D2/Ikegami Tsushinki
Also Available For: Game Boy Advance, GameCube (via Animal Crossing (Nintendo EAD, 2001)), Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Wii (Virtual Console)

The Background:
Early into 1981, Nintendo had run into a bit of trouble; their plans to expand into North America with Radar Scope (Nintendo R&D2/Ikegami Tsushinki, 1980) had failed and then-president Hiroshi Yamauchi turned to young designer Shigeru Miyamoto to create a new arcade cabinet to turn their fortunes around. When plans to base this new machine on the popular comic strip character Popeye fell through, Miyamoto, inspired by Beauty and the Beast (Barbot de Villeneuve, 1740) and King Kong (Cooper and Schoedsack, 1933), retooled the concept into Donkey Kong, a classic tale of man versus ape that would see gamers guide the character of Jumpman across conveyer belts and up construction sites to rescue Lady from the clutches of a cranky, stubborn ape. Following some suggestions from Nintendo’s American distributors, “Jumpman” and “Lady” were renamed to “Mario” and “Pauline”, respectively, and Donkey Kong was released across the United States in July 1981 and became the financial and critical success Nintendo desperately needed to break into the U.S. Naturally, ports soon followed; versions of Donkey Kong showed up on the ColecoVision, Atari 2600, and Intellivision as well as other home systems like the ZX Spectrum and MSX. A modified, scaled-down version of the game was also released as one of the launch titles for the NES, the console which dragged the videogame industry out of its darkest hour, and it is this version of the game which was later released for the Nintendo Switch Online and which I’ll be discussing today.

The Plot:
The cantankerous ape Donkey Kong has kidnapped Pauline and taken her to the top of a construction site! Her only hope is Mario, a plucky carpenter with the jumping skills necessary to scale Donkey Kong’s tower and rescue the maiden from his hairy clutches.

Donkey Kong’s genre is a bit difficult to define given that videogame genres hadn’t really been fully established back in the early eighties beyond space shooters and obscure puzzle games but it is, essentially, a vertical action/platformer in which an early iteration of Nintendo’s flagship character and mascot, Mario, must run and jump up and across a series of platforms while avoiding hazards in order to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong’s clutches at the top of the screen. Generally, I find Mario to be quite a slippery and unwieldy character to play as but, in his debut appearance, he moves more like he has lead weights in his shoes; his default movement is a steady but weighty jog and his jumps constantly feel like he’s struggling against the pull of gravity. The game also employs little to no momentum-based physics, meaning it’s easy to clip hazards and lose a life as a result.

Take care when jumping (or doing anything, for that matter) as it’s easy to wind up dead.

Gravity continues to be the bane of your existence as Mario takes a ridiculous amount of fall damage in Donkey Kong; drop from any height, be it one platform above or from the top of the screen, and you’re going to die. Leaping from a moving conveyer to a small platform that’s slightly below you? Instant death. Accidentally fall down a hole when you remove the rivets from stage three? Dead. As a result, there’s little margin for error in Donkey Kong and, if you screw up, you’re gonna die; there are no second chances here. As you play, you’ll notice a ‘Bonus’ score counter in the game’s limited heads-up display (HUD). This continuously counts down as you play, reducing the bonus score you’ll get upon completing a stage if you take too long. Also, if it reaches zero, guess what? Yep, you lose a life, making it a combination bonus score/time limit for additional pressure.

The game’s three stages loop continuously, getting faster and harder with each playthrough.

Unlike the original arcade game, the NES version of Donkey Kong features only three stages: the first is a construction site, the second features conveyor belts, and the third and final stage has you removing rivets to bring Donkey Kong crashing to the ground. Each time you complete these three stages, the game continues on a loop, getting faster and harder with each subsequent playthrough, however there is no true end to the game; Mario simply keels over and dies once you reach stage twenty-two, meaning that your main incentive to play the game again and again is to beat your own personal high score.

Graphics and Sound:
Donkey Kong is as 8-bit as 8-bit can be; stages consist of a stark, blank black background and are dominated by the iconic red girders and the large, looming, grinning features of the titular ape. While the arcade original was one of the first games to tell an onscreen story through the use of simple animations that we would, today, describe as cutscenes, the NES version omits these entirely but the game is charming enough to look at regardless.

The game’s graphics are charmingly simple, with Donkey Kong being the standout.

Mario is an extremely simple and yet surprisingly expressive bit of sprite work; unlike other avatars like Pac-Man, he has clearly-defined features such as a prominent nose, moustache, and his signature overalls and cap meaning that he easily stands out against the game’s otherwise-limited colour palette. Pauline looks like a bit of a mess but, luckily, Donkey Kong makes up for it by being big and full of character despite his obviously-limited frames of animation. The game features some iconic and simple melodies, boasting such features as separate tunes for the title screen, each of the game’s three stages, and for completing a stage. It’s limited by the hardware of the time, clearly, but it’s enough to have you humming along as you play.

Enemies and Bosses:
Far from the Goombas and Koopas that would later plague Mario’s every waking hour, Donkey Kong mainly has you avoiding barrels tossed at you by the giant ape. These can roll along, drop off ledges, and fall down ladders seemingly at random, meaning you constantly have to be on your toes to make split-second decisions about when to jump or climb a ladder. These barrels can also bounce around the screen, drop down vertically, and take a dip into some oil to transform into anthropomorphic flames. In stage two, Donkey Kong will also toss bouncing springs at you; as the game speeds up, these can be extremely difficult to avoid as the window of opportunity is so small and the game’s hit boxes are deceptively big.

Barrels, springs, and living fireballs are the game’s primary hazards and enemies.

In stage three, you’ll also have to watch out for more troublesome balls of fire that wander around the stage seemingly at random, going up ladders and suddenly changing direction to cost you a life. Of course, the game’s primary antagonist is Donkey Kong himself; should you brave his many hazards and attempt to tackle him directly, you’ll lose a life. As a result, the only way to defeat him is to get to the game’s third and final stage. Here, you’ll have to avoid the aforementioned fireballs while jumping over eight rivets. Once all eight are removed, the girders will vanish from beneath Donkey Kong and he will crash comically down onto his head so you can make love hearts with Pauline. Honestly, it’s probably the game’s easiest stage as the first two can get pretty hairy when the game speeds up, making the climax a little anticlimactic even for an 8-bit title.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you jump your way to rescue Pauline, you’ll be able to earn points by leaping over enemies (whatever you do, don’t jump on to them like you might expect Mario to do!) and collecting (what I assume are) Pauline’s parasol and purse from across the stages, Mario’s sole method of fighting back in this game is his trusty hammer; two hammers can be found in stage one and three (you’ll just have to fend for yourself in stage two) and collecting one will send Mario into barrel-and-fireball-bustin’ frenzy as a frenetic tune plays. The hammer will destroy anything it touches, allowing you to clear the way for your progress, but you cannot jump while holding it which, honestly, makes it kind of useless as hazards will have respawned by the time you’re ready to progress further.

Additional Features:
Being an 8-bit title, the main motivation for playing is to achieve, or beat, a high score. The game does offer four gameplay modes: two for a solo player and two for two players but I don’t have anyone to play with so I was only able to play the one-player game. From what I can tell, though, the two-player mode is a case of each player taking it in turns to play rather than a simultaneous co-op mode. When playing Donkey Kong on the Nintendo Switch, you get a few extra options that dramatically reduce the game’s difficulty thanks to the Switch’s ‘suspend menu’ mode, which allows you can create a save point at any time and rewind the game back so you can correct and miss-steps you might have made.

The Summary:
I’ve played Donkey Kong before; I’m pretty sure I had it on the Amiga back in the day and I remember sucking at the version that was included as a mini game in Donkey Kong 64 (Rare, 1999) but this is the first time I’ve properly sat down and put some time into the game. It’s a simple bit of 8-bit fun and an enjoyable slice of nostalgia; gameplay is easy to get to grips with and the controls are responsive even if Mario does feel a bit weighty in his movements. The sprites and music and charming and indicative of their era and the game offers a fair amount of challenge thanks to it speeding up the more you play. It’s obviously limited in terms of its features and options, which does affect my rating of the game, but it’s a fun enough title that’ll keep you occupied for as long as you feel like playing (in my case…about half an hour or so).

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you ever own Donkey Kong for the NES back in the day? Perhaps you played the arcade version out in the wild; if so, when and what was that like? Which port of Donkey Kong is your favourite? Which Donkey Kong videogame is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating Donkey Kong’s anniversary this year? Whatever your thoughts on Donkey Kong, feel free to leave a comment below.

Game Corner [Mario Month]: Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo Switch)

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties. To commemorate Mario Day this year, March has been “Mario Month” as I have celebrated everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber on each Wednesday of the month.

Released: 18 September 2020
Originally Released: 1 November 2007
Developer: Nintendo
Original Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Also Available For: Nintendo Wii and Nvidia Shield

The Background:
The concept of Super Mario Galaxy’s gameplay finds its genesis in Super Mario 128, a tech demo designed to showcase the power of Nintendo’s GameCube compared to the Nintendo 64 and other consoles at the time. Specifically, it was the concept of running, jumping, and exploring shifting, spherical bodies that caught Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s imagination and many of the game’s concepts and ideas were thought up before Nintendo Wii was even developed, including new gameplay mechanics such as adding a spin attack to Mario’s arsenal to make it easier to attack enemies on spherical, 3D plane.

Super Mario Galaxy incorporated a number of new mechanics to spice up Mario’s gameplay.

After tweaking the gameplay to make things a bit more challenging for players, the team worked on implementing unique ways to take advantage of Mario’s space-based adventure, including gravity-based mechanics, new transformations and ways to play, and focusing on making the game fun to play rather than simply rushing to finish it. Super Mario Galaxy was a critical and commercial success, selling over 350,000 units in Japan during its first week alone and over 12.80 million copies worldwide by March 2020. The game also won, or was nominated for, numerous gaming awards and received an equally-well-received sequel in 2020. While that game wasn’t included in Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Nintendo, 2020) for the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Galaxy was, meaning that I recently finally got the chance to play this game through, my to my delight.

The Plot:
All of the Mushroom Kingdom has gathered together for the centennial Star Festival. Unfortunately, the diabolical Bowser, King of the Koopas, gatecrashes the celebrations and kidnaps not just Princess Peach but her entire castle, hurtling them into outer space! Guided by Rosalina and the Lumas, Mario resolves to explore the entire galaxy, collecting both Power Stars and Grand Stars to power Rosalina’s Comet Observatory and rescue Princess Peach.

Super Mario Galaxy is a 3D action/platformer that brings back many of Mario’s controls and abilities from Super Mario 64 (Nintendo EAD, 1996); not longer hampered by a water-spewing jetpack, Mario is, thankfully, once again able to backflip and long jump in addition to using his patented triple jump, side jump, and wall kicks to navigate the game’s many and varied Galaxies.

Mario has a few new tricks up his sleeve that change the way you play.

Mario can still hop on the heads of his enemies to dispatch them or use his ample rump to squash them flat but, in the absence of his punching attacks, players can now use the touch screen to gather and launch “Star Bits” at the screen to attack enemies, destroy certain objects, and reveal Yellow Coins. This allows a second player to work alongside Mario in a pretty lacklustre implementation of a two-player co-op mode but, thankfully, Mario is gifted with a new spin attack that allows him to take out enemies and helicopter his way across tricky gaps.

Travel to the game’s many Galaxies to retrieve all the Power Stars.

As in the previous 3D Mario games, Super Mario Galaxy is structured around a central hub world (in this case Rosalina’s “Comet Observatory”) from which you can enter the game’s forty-two different stages (referred to as “Galaxies”) from different areas in the hub world. Each Galaxy has anywhere from one to six different missions, the completion of which awards you with a Power Star; once you collect sixty Power Stars, you’ll be able to access the game’s final Galaxy and battle Bowser, but you’ll need all 120 to see the game’s true ending.

There are many Galaxies and missions to complete, with additional challenges on offer.

It may seem, on the surface, that Super Mario Galaxy has far too many stages on offer but not all of the Galaxies are accessible right from the start or even while you’re visiting that Galaxy. Other areas of the Comet Observatory will open up as you collect Power Stars, with numerous small, more challenging Galaxies cropping up along the way and Mario’s skills being tested by a series of “Prankster Comets”. These see you return to previous Galaxies to earn a new Power Star with only one sliver of health, racing against Mario’s doppelgänger, “Cosmic Mario”, completing the Galaxy within a time limit, and contending with much faster enemies and obstacles.

Super Mario Galaxy‘s main selling points were space, spheres, planets, and gravity.

Furthermore, Galaxies are actually quite small in a lot of ways and tackled in sections; you’ll be dropped into a Galaxy and be tasked with navigating spheres, jumping to platforms, and blasting across the area using Launch Stars, with each mission allowing you, and tasking you, to access different areas of the Galaxy to mix up the stage each time you visit. Super Mario Galaxy’s main selling point is its use of gravity- and space-based stages; almost every planet, block, or platform you stand on has its own gravitational force, allowing you to run all around it without fear of falling to your death and you can easily jump to another traversable body and get sucked into its gravity to make platforming a simple but, eventually, challenging affair as you’ll have to use all of Mario’s skills to jump and navigate across Galaxies without being sucked into a black hole and to his death.

You’ll have to complete a wide variety of missions to get all the Power Stars.

Gravity also comes into play in other ways, such as hitting clock-like arrows to change its direction or navigating across walls, blocks, and platforms while the gravity shifts in different directions. You’ll also be required to perform specific tasks or do some extremely light puzzle solving to cross the Galaxy or access the Power Star. This includes pounding on switches, collecting five yellow Star Chips to assemble a Launch Star, directing Banzai Bills or tossing Bob-ombs to blow up cages, hopping up or across temporary platforms, collecting five Silver Stars, finding Star Bunnies, racing against certain enemies or a time limit, or using a Koopa shell or manta ray to dart through rings underwater or through a water slide.

Ride the air currents with a Floaty Fluff or put Mario’s Olympic skills to good use when on ice.

Other times, the environment will assemble itself around you or become intangible thanks to a ghostly light, which will test your reaction times as much as your patience, or Mario will have to run over flip switches to progress, collect a Key, or grab a ? Coin to spawn musical notes to collect. You’ll also have to grab on to a Floaty Fluff to float across air currents, rotate Bolt Lifts by running on them to reach platforms, hitch a ride in a bubble, awkwardly run across (or skate by pressing Y) icy platforms, smash coconuts to damage certain enemies, hit levers, or fling Mario across the arena using sticky Sling Pods.

The game is at its most frustrating when you’re forced to use the Pull Stars or ride a Star Ball.

Some of the game’s more troublesome sections come from the inclusion of blue Pull Stars; you need to tap the screen to draw Mario towards these little bastards, holding down to keep him hovering there and releasing it at the right moment to slingshot across the area, usually while in a race, against a time limit, or avoiding a load of obstacles. By far the most frustrating gameplay element, though, are the missions that require you to hop onto a Star Ball and navigate mini golf-like obstacle courses full of hazards and platforms to roll off. Though Mario can jump when on the Star Ball, you are forced to use the Nintendo Switch’s lousy gyroscopic controls to roll him about, which is needlessly annoying since I found it extremely difficult to hold the machine in a way that actually made Mario move where I wanted him to and, often, Mario simply rolled wherever he wanted, often to his death.

Mario is quite weak this time around but, luckily, 1-Ups are plentiful.

Similar to its predecessors, Mario’s health is again measured with a pie chart but, this time around, Mario can only take three hits before he’ll lose a life. Mario can still replenish his health by collecting Yellow Coins, though, and a number of checkpoints appear in the game’s Galaxies (though I found there was no onscreen indication of when you had passed one of these checkpoints) which means you won’t always have to restart the Galaxy from the very beginning. Extra lives are extremely plentiful, however, with 1-Up Mushrooms placed helpfully in or near the game’s trickier sections and Mario can earn an extra life for every fifty Coins and/or Star Bits he collects and, later in the game, Princess Peach will gift you with five extra lives via a Toad courier.

Many classic Mario staples make a welcome return in Super Mario Galaxy.

It’s highly advisable to collect every Star Bit you see as hungry Lumas will appear within the Galaxies and in the Comet Observatory and feeding them is the only way to unlock all of the game’s Galaxies. You can keep track of your progress by speaking to various non-playable characters (NPCs), such as Rosalina, the Toads, and the Lumas and a map of the Comet Observatory shows you which Galaxies you need to revisit by use of a little crown to indicate when a Galaxy has been completed. Finally, unlike its predecessor, Super Mario Galaxy not only returns to the kind of stage variety we saw in Super Mario 64 but also brings back classic 2D Mario staples such as warp pipes and ? Blocks.

Graphics and Sound:
If there’s one area that Super Mario Galaxy excels in it’s presentation; the game is absolutely gorgeous, popping with colour and variety and oozing a cartoonish charm at every turn. It retains the cute, cuddly, almost action figure aesthetic of Super Mario Sunshine but improves upon it immensely, with all of the game’s environments brought to life through a fantastic use of colour, lighting, music, and intractable elements. Each Galaxy is populated by a variety of NPCs, including Toads, Lumas, Honeybees, Gearmos, and Penguins, all of whom each talk to you through speech bubbles or can be spoken to for hints or more useful rewards like Power Stars. Toads and Lumas also begin to populate the Comet Observatory as you progress, which really helps to bring some life to the hub world, which disappointingly otherwise takes more inspiration from Princess Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64 than the lively Delfino Plaza.

Super Mario Galaxy‘s stages are full of colour, challenge, and variety.

Thankfully, Super Mario Galaxy is almost the exact opposite of Super Mario Sunshine when it comes to level and gameplay variety. Each of the game’s Galaxies is unique in its presentation, with Mario visiting Galaxies of ice, lava, water, sand battleships, beachfronts, and toy-strewn bedrooms. In the Ghostly Galaxy, you’ll explore a haunted mansion that is reminiscent of both Big Boo’s Mansion from Super Mario 64 and the titular mansion of Luigi’s Mansion (ibid, 2001), explore sunken pirate ships, clamber up honey-drenched walls, race across stony platforms to avoid being sucked into deadly quicksand, and blast out from an active volcano, with every Galaxy and Star mission being an energetic and fun, yet challenging, burst of action and, at times, intensity.

The game uses are variety of storytelling methods to convey its fun and simple plot.

Perhaps best of all, Super Mario Galaxy brings back a lot of classic Mario tunes and sound effects to really bring the title back to its roots. Rather than using full blown voice acting, the game opts for speech bubbles, brief voice clips, and a heavy use of gibberish and pantomime for the few instances of dialogue. Cutscenes are also heavily reduced compared to its predecessor, with the opening cinematic split across a brief tutorial and the game opting to tell the story of Rosalina and the Luma’s through an adorable children’s book.

Enemies and Bosses:
Many of Mario’s recognisable enemies make their return in Super Mario Galaxy, with each one being slightly tweaked to accommodate Mario’s new mechanics. You can jump on Goombas to dispatch them, which will produce a Coin, but if you spin into them and kick them away you can get Star Bits, for example, adding a little strategy to how you play. Bullet Bills are often fired at you from the cannons of Bowser’s many battleships, you’ll need to toss Bob-ombs to destroy garbage or break open cages, Bloopers patrol beneath the waves, and Chomps freely roll around various Galaxies looking to take a bite out of you. Boos also make a return, now being completely immune to all of Mario’s attacks and only vulnerable to beams of light, and you’ll also encounter old favourites such as Koopas, Pokeys, Wrigglers, Twomps, Piranha Plants, and Magikoopas (who conjure fireballs your way and teleport to avoid your attacks).

Enemies old and new provide a minor nuisance to Mario’s galaxy-spanning quest.

New enemies include the bomb-throwing Cluckbooms, explosive Bomb Boos, electrified jellyfish, and easily-dispatched bugs. Just as Gombeetle’s protect themselves from your Star Bits and standard jump attacks with an armoured shell, Crabber’s can only be attacked from their exposed rear and you’ll need to use your spin attack to put out Lil’ Cinder’s flames before you can dispatch them. Mandibugs will charge at you with their pincer-like jaws, Micro Mecha-Bower’s try to roast your behind, and Monty Moles like to burrow under the dirt to catch you off guard but, while your butt stomp will serve you well in taking care of these enemies, you’ll need to use your spin attack to push the members of the Topman tribe into electrified walls to end their threat.

Run around the Dino Piranha to whack its tail but watch out for the flames!

You’ll battle sixteen bosses throughout the course of Super Mario Galaxy, with eight of them needing to be fought more than once. The first boss you’ll have to contend with is the Dino Piranha, a large, aggressive, and hungry variant of Petey Piranha. This boss stomps around a small sphere trying to trample you to death and can only be defeated by hitting its rock-encrusted tail with a spin attack. Later in the game you battle a far more formidable version of this boss, the Fiery Dino Piranha, in the Melting Molten Galaxy. Though the strategy remains the same, this battle is much more difficult by the fact that the Fiery Dino Piranha’s tail becomes engulfed in flames and the boss’s ability to spit fireballs out at you.

Use Mario’s spin attack to knock King Kaliente’s shots back at him.

Another boss you’ll go up against twice is King Kaliente, a gigantic octopus that emerges from lava to shoot flaming projectiles at you; unfortunately for him, though, he also spits out a coconut, which you can hit with your spin attack to damage him. He crops up again in Bower Jr’s Lava Reactor with the battle being made more difficult by the fact that you’re now stood on a series of small platforms that sink into lava and King Kaliente’s more frequent and aggressive attacks (though, again, the strategy remains the same; you should also be prepared to parry coconuts with the boss since it likes to knock them away as the fight progresses).

Major Burrows and Bouldergeist require a little more strategy on your part.

Major Burrows and Bouldergeist are also fought twice across the course of the game, with the battle being much tougher the second time around. Major Burrows is, basically, a giant Monty Mole and is only vulnerable when he pops up from the ground; once he does, you can perform a ground pound to scare him completely out of his hole and then attack him as he runs around the spherical stage. Bouldergeist is, by comparison, much tougher since the only way you can break off his rock-like hide is to trick Bomb Boos into colliding with him. Once his exterior is smashed, Mario must then swing a Bomb Boo into Bouldergeist’s exposed core using his spin attack but before it explodes in his face, all of which is made much more troublesome by Bouldergeist’s desire to pummel you with his hands, smash you with boulders, and erect destructible rocky walls to box you in.

Super Mario Galaxy features some big, colourful, and unique bosses battles.

Interestingly, the boss you’ll encounter the most isn’t Bowser; it’s Topmaniac, the gigantic leader of the Topman tribe who is easily disposed of by jumping on its head to get rid of its spikes and then using your spin attack to bash it into the electrified walls of the arena. The game’s bosses are all quite large, memorable affairs though: you’ll need to lure Bullet Bills over Megaleg’s legs to destroy the cages on its head; navigate icy platforms and use wall jumps to reach Baron Burr and thaw him out with Mario’s spin attack; dispatch waves of Mandibugs to ground pound the large Stink Bug Parent; you’ll need to use similar tactics (in conjunction with Banandelions and Mario’s Bee power-up) to defeat the bomb-dropping Bugaboom; fire yourself at Tarantox’s glowing red boils with Sling Pods; and fire Koopa shells at the skeletal remains of Kingfin as it swims through the dark waters.

Bowser Jr only shows up for one boss battle but you’ll fight with Kamella more than once.

Despite his prominence in the last game and frequent appearances throughout Super Mario Galaxy, you’ll only battle Bowser Jr the one time; Bowser Jr shoots cannonballs at you from his flying pirate ship and can only be damaged by throwing Koopa shells at him. This gets very intense during the final stages as Bowser Jr also starts firing Banzai Bills at you, meaning there are a lot of projectiles and hazards to watch out for at the same time. In comparison, you’ll fight Kamella three times, with each battle having a very similar strategy to fighting Bowser Jr; Kamella conjures both fireballs and green shells that you can throw at her, though she also summons Magikoopas, wandering fireballs, and teleports about the arena to make it harder for you to hit her.

You’ll face Bowser three times, with the final fight being a three stage boss battle.

As in Super Mario 64,you’ll also battle Bowser three times throughout the game, with your strategy to defeating him remaining relatively unchanged in each bout. Bowser likes to generate shockwaves across the small spherical planet you fight him on and must be lured into pounding through a sheet of glass to set his tail on fire; as he flees in pain, you can hit him with your spin attack, which can be hard to do as Bowser slides all over the sphere in an erratic pattern on the back of his shell. When you encounter Bowser again, he’ll perform his own spinning attack and launch numerous fireballs your way but it’s the finale battle of the game where Bowser is at his most formidable. This is a three phase boss battle that first sees Mario having to time his spin attack just right to hit Bowser out of the rocky exterior he has protected himself with, desperately outrun Bowser’s powerful spinning attack, and puts your jumping and reaction skills to the test avoiding the many shockwaves and fireballs that Bowser fills the small arena with. As long as you keep your wits about you and watch Bowser’s frenzied spinning, charging, and jumping attacks, these battles mainly come down to a question of properly timing your spin attack to put en end to Bowser’s latest threat.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As in all Mario games, you can collect Yellow Coins in each Galaxy; you no longer need to worry about collecting a hundred of these for a hidden Power Star, or any Red Coins (which is a blessing after Super Mario Sunshine’s massive overuse of the concept), but you will get an extra life for every fifty Coins you collect. The game’s big, new feature is the Star Bit mechanic, which allows you to fire at enemies and objects on the screen; it’s advisable to frantically swipe at any and all Star Bits you see to add to your grand total and collect extra lives but don’t get so distracted to you lose focus on what you’re doing!

Be sure to grab a Life Mushroom or Rainbow Star whenever they appear to give yourself an edge.

At various points throughout the game, you’ll find or be given the opportunity to purchase a Life Mushroom, which will double Mario’s health meter; if you spot one of these, grab it as you’ll probably need it for an upcoming boss battle or tricky section. Mario also has a number of transformations this time around, some which are familiar, some which are new, but none of which are as prominent as you might expect. You can grab a Rainbow Star to briefly become invincible, allowing you to run through enemies and hazards without fear, for example, but this only lasts for a short period of time.

Grab a power-up to temporarily gain access to some new, and familiar, abilities.

Other temporary power-ups include the returning Fire Flower (which allows you to shoot fireballs and defrost snowmen), the Ice Flower (which allows you to walk across water and wall jump up waterfalls using ice platforms), and the Red Star (which allows Mario to fly unimpeded like an upgraded version of the Wing Cap). It’s a shame that these power-ups are so limited in their appearances and use, to be honest, as it would be fun to revisit the game’s Galaxies and explore them using Flying Mario or open new areas as Fire Mario, for example.

Mario’s new power-ups are certainly fun, if a bit unwieldy at times.

Mario has other, less temporary power-ups at his disposal as well: the Bee Mushroom allows him to fly for a short time by tapping or holding A and to climb up honey-covered walls; the Boo Mushroom transforms Mario into a Boo, which allows him to float indefinitely and pass through certain walls by becoming temporarily incorporeal; and the Spring Mushroom allows Mario to bounce extremely high into the air with a well-timed press of the A button. Each of these transformations will be lost if Mario touches water or an enemy and, of the three, Bee Mario is the most often used and Spring Mario is easily the most unwieldy thanks to Mario bouncing all over the place, but none of them are as prominent as power-ups in previous Mario titles such as the Wing Cap and Raccoon Mario (which both feature on the front covers of their respective games).

Additional Features:
As in its predecessors, Super Mario Galaxy requires you to collect a number of special objects to progress further. There are 120 Power Stars to be found in the game, including Grand Stars to be won from boss battles, and rarer Green and Red Power Stars found in hidden Galaxies or from finding Mario’s brother, Luigi, in specific areas of each Galaxy. You only need sixty Power Stars to battle the final boss but, once you finish the game, a new Galaxy will appear and you’ll be tasked with collecting the remaining Power Stars to see the game’s true ending.

The Purple Coin trials are some of the game’s most frustrating challenges.

This new Galaxy introduces you to the Purple Comet mechanic; when the Purple Comet is in orbit around a Galaxy, you’ll have to collect one hundred Purple Coins to earn a Power Star. This can be quite frustrating and troublesome as you’re often racing against a time limit, which continues to count down even after the Power Star spawns, with Luigi’s Purple Coin mission being easily the most maddening trial of them all since it forces you to run across disappearing and rotating platforms over an endless void and against a time limit. If you’ve missed any of the other Prankster Comet Stars, you’ll have to chat to a Luma in the Comet Observatory to put them in orbit and collect any you’re missing.

Collect all 120 Stars to play through the entire game again as Luigi and earn that elusive 121st Star.

Once you have all 120, you then have to go through the game’s gruelling final Galaxy and battle Bowser again in order to see an additional cutscene and unlock Luigi as a playable character! Yes, finally, after the lacklustre rewards of the last two games you actually get something substantial for all your hard work. You can switch to Luigi when accessing your saved file, which will begin a new game from the start as Luigi, who jumps higher and further than his stoutly brother. Sadly, though, you must then play through the entire game all over again, collecting the same 120 Power Stars as Luigi, in order to access the game’s final final Galaxy and claim the elusive 121st Power Star by collecting another one hundred Purple Coins during the Star Festival celebrations. I don’t mean to complain about this since I have been waiting to play as Luigi, and get a decent completion reward, since Super Mario 64 but, as much as I enjoyed the game, it’s a bit much to ask players to do everything all over again as Luigi since you’re pretty exhausted after getting the first 120 Stars.

The Summary:
Super Mario Galaxy was an incredibly enjoyable experience; right from the start, as soon as I experimented with Mario’s controls, I knew that I would prefer this game over Super Mario Sunshine. It plays much more like Super Mario 64, returning a lot of Mario’s abilities and controls from that game, which makes platforming and gameplay all the better. Add to that the game’s fantastic presentation, use of classic Mario elements, and unique setting and you have an extremely grandiose and accessible Mario adventure.

It’s a massive, gorgeous game with loads of replay value and some real challenge.

While it was disappointing to see Mario still confined to a hub world and acquiring Power Stars on a mission-by-mission basis, and the game was maddeningly frustrating at times, Super Mario Galaxy does some pretty impressive things with its unique concept. Through clever use of its gravity mechanics, a rising level of challenge, and being packed full of bright, colourful environments, characters, and content, there’s certainly a lot more on offer in Super Mario Galaxy than in its predecessors and the game is presented in a way that encourages short bursts of gameplay, making it a perfect title to play on the go or in your down time.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think of Super Mario Galaxy? Did you play the original Wii version and, if so, how do you find the Switch remaster holds up? Were you a fan of the game’s space- and gravity-orientated gameplay or do you feel like the concept was a bit outlandish even for Mario? What did you think to the game’s level of challenge? Which Power Star did you struggle the most with, which Galaxy was your favourite, and what did you think of the new characters the game introduced? Did you ever finish the game as Luigi and get all 121 Power Stars? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts and memories of Super Mario Galaxy, and your feedback regarding Mario Month, in the comments below.

Game Corner [Mario Month]: Super Mario Sunshine (Nintendo Switch)

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties. To commemorate Mario Day this year, I’ve made March “Mario Month” and am spending each Wednesday talking about everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber.

Released: 18 September 2020
Originally Released: 19 July 2002
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Also Available For: Nintendo GameCube

The Background:
After the success of Super Mario 64 (ibid, 1996), a sequel had been in development for several years; however, despite a title apparently in line to be released in the early days of the Nintendo GameCube’s release, Nintendo opted to focus on Mario’s brother, Luigi, for the GameCube’s launch.

The sequel to Super Mario 64 spend many years in development.

Beginning life as a tech demo tentatively titled Super Mario 128, Super Mario Sunshine was retooled to both expand upon the mechanics and gameplay of its predecessor and to have Mario utilise a water pump as both a weapon and to navigate his environment. Upon release, the game garnered widespread critical acclaim for its presentation, music, and gameplay, though some did criticise the game’s camera and more frustrating moments. For my part, I had been attempting to buy a copy of the game for many years, having only found it to be extortionately expensive for such an old title, so I was delighted when the title was included in Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Nintendo, 2020) for the Nintendo Switch, which is the version I’ll be looking at today.

The Plot:
Mario arrives at Isle Delfino for a vacation with Princess Peach, her long-time steward Toadsworth, and several other Toads. However, upon arrival, they find that the once-pristine island has been polluted and plastered with graffiti and Mario, as the prime suspect, is charged with cleaning up the graffiti, recovering the missing Shine Sprites, and uncovering the mystery of his shadowy doppelgänger.

Like Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine is a 3D action/platformer. However, while Super Mario 64 had you leaping through magical paintings inside of Princess Peach’s castle, Mario finds himself jumping and hopping around the tropical island resort of Isle Delfino and its surrounding areas.

Mario’s jumping skills are good but not quite as versatile as before…

While, at first, it seems as though Mario retains all of his abilities from Super Mario 64, this isn’t actually the case; Mario can still run, jump, double-, and triple-jump, wall jump, and perform a sideways jump to reach higher areas but he can no longer duck, crawl, long jump, or perform a backwards somersault. This is massively problematic coming into this game right after playing Super Mario 64 as you don’t realise how helpful those abilities are until they’re missing.

Use F.L.U.D.D. to attack enemies and hover to out-of-reach areas.

Also, Mario can no longer punch or kick enemies. He can still perform a running dive (and can now use this to slide away like a rocket if he dives onto wet ground) and a ground pound, which is useful, but his primary mode of attack and manoeuvring is to utilise Professor E. Gadd’s Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device (“F.L.U.D.D.”), a water-blasting jetpack, of sorts, that not only allows Mario to clean up toxic waste, sludge, and graffiti but also to blast at enemies to stun them or topple them over and hover short distances. Mario gains a slight amount of height the longer you hold the jump button to help him reach higher areas but it’s an awkward and cumbersome system, one that makes platforming and jumping far more frustrating than it needs to be as Mario tends to spiral off like a madman, spewing water everywhere, or fall just short or reaching far away (or high up) platforms thanks to F.L.U.D.D.’s limited tank and the game’s bothersome controls.

Shadow Mario has framed Mario and spread goop and graffiti throughout Isle Delfino.

Since Isle Delfino has been polluted and graffitied by “Shadow Mario”, and the population holds Mario himself responsible, you’ll be spending a lot of your time spraying your environment with water. Entering any of the many (many) bodies of water allows Mario to not only swim and dive but also refill F.L.U.D.D. Even when F.L.U.D.D. is full, though, you can’t just spray until the tank is empty; instead, your water will sputter out after a short time whenever you try to spray stuff for a long time. If you get muck on you, you can wash it off in water or by wriggling the control stick, which can also double as a whirlwind-like jump that I, honestly, found little use for.

This time, there’s no reprieve in water or from Coins other than the common yellow variants.

As in Super Mario 64, Mario has a health meter, this time measured by a glowing sun. While health can be replenished by collecting Yellow Coins, you’ll no longer instantly regain health by entering water, though you can keep yourself from drowning by collecting Coins and sucking in air bubbles. Also, while you’ll still find Red and Blue Coins in the game’s various stages, these won’t refill your health, though Mario is far less likely to plummet to his doom this time around since there is always a massive body of water to break his fall.

Rather than Stars, Mario must find 120 Shine Sprites across a number of tropical locations.

Rather than being confined to a castle, Mario has the run of Isle Delfino, a bright and lively seaside port town that is populated by Piantas (goofy little characters who offer vague hints and task you with bringing them fruit) and a few of Peach’s Toads. Still, the general premise is the same; explore a hub world and enter into one of the game’s eight stages, seven of which featuring eight missions (known as “Episodes”) that allow Mario to recover one of Isle Delfino’s 120 Shine Sprites. Mario can, again, also find Shines in the hub world and by collecting 100 Coins in each of the stages (and easily keep track of any missing Shines using the map/totals screen) but, unlike in Super Mario 64, each Shine can only be obtained in its corresponding Episode (the Red Coins, for example, don’t appear in every Episode) and you’re still unceremoniously spat out of the current stage every time you collect a Shine (even a 100 Coin Shine), all of which means that, while each stage changes in various ways from Episode to Episode, there’s a lot less freedom and choice to how you recover the Shines.

Shine missions range from the easy, to the lazy, to the maddeningly annoying!

To recover the Shines, you’ll be tasked with performing such familiar tasks as defeating bosses, collecting eight Red Coins, or racing against another character. Each Episode also has you chasing after Shadow Mario, spraying him as you go until he yields a Shine, while some have you collecting another eight Red Coins in a startling example of laziness on the developers’ part. Other times, you’ll be running around in circles desperately trying to figure out what you need to do; each Episode opens with a short cutscene to help guide you in how to obtain its Shine but a lot of the time it’s very difficult to figure out what you need to do. Other times, you’ll be racing or collecting Red Coins against a time limit, returning to previous stages with new upgrades and abilities to get missing Shines or be tasked with performing needlessly difficult tasks, such as rolling watermelons to a pier or surfing on a Blooper without touching anything as you’ll have to start all over again or lose a life, respectively!

The damn obstacle course stages can go burn in a fiery pit!

While the game is much prettier and far more aesthetically pleasing than Super Mario 64, the same blocky visuals make an unwelcome return in the game’s many obstacle course stages; these hidden areas are found in each stage and see Shadow Mario steal away F.L.U.D.D., leaving you to run and jump across various moving, rotating, and temporary platforms without the aid of your water jet or Mario’s more useful jumping skills from the previous game. Generally, you can find at least one, if not two, 1-Up Mushrooms in these secret stages and you are going to need them as, while the game’s camera allows for full 360 degree control and is much improved over the last game’s camera, it’s still sometimes painfully difficult to get a decent angle, to say nothing of Mario’s continued slipperiness and instability (seriously, it’s like he doesn’t even try to stay on or hang from ledges!) Add to that the fact that you’ll have to frantically run around long rotating platforms, try not to slide off of cog-like blocks, and be reliant on Piantas throwing you to far away or high up platforms in these stages and it all amounts to the game’s most frustrating moments by far.

While the game is gorgeous to look at, I wasn’t exactly blown away with the stage variety.

While Isle Delfino is a much livelier and visually interesting environment, with lots to see, do, and find compared to Peach’s Castle, the variety in the game’s stages leaves a lot to be desired. It sounds stupid but the game really does rely way too much on F.L.U.D.D. and its tropical island theme; this means that every stage is full of water and such clichés as beach fronts, theme parks, and ports. While it’s nice that you’re far less likely to fall down a bottomless pit and that you can see the other stages way off in the distance, it got pretty tiresome and boring quite quickly as all of the game’s stages felt far too visually similar. Super Mario 64 was full of stage variety; one minute you’d be exploring sunken depths or sliding about in an ice and snow world, the next you’d be flying through the clouds or exploring a gas-filled maze. While some Episodes in Super Mario Sunshine inject some variety, with a haunted hotel being the focus for most of Sirena Beach and Pianta Village featuring a distinct (if frustrating) cage maze beneath it, I never got the same feeling of diversity while playing through the game and, when it did try something new, it was often frustrating shit like clambering up temporary platforms, trying to not slide off of moving and twisting fairground rides, or shooting yourself into the air using spontaneous sandscastles.

Graphics and Sound:
If there’s one thing Super Mario Sunshine has going for it, it’s its bright, colourful, and attractive graphics and presentation. In keeping with the tropical theme of the game, Mario is wearing a short-sleeved shirt and will not only doze off when left idle but also wipe sweat from his brow when in the shade. He, and all of the game’s characters, also have a plastic, action figure-like quality to them and are far more expressive thanks to the game’s greater processing power.

The water effects are fantastic and the stages are full of characters and life.

While I grew tired of the tropical theme pretty quickly, the developers definitely went all-in with it; the water effects are amazing, with waves rippling, rising, and falling in the many instances of sea, and the lighting effects really make it feel as though you’re caught in the unrelenting heat of tropical sunshine. Each of the game’s worlds, and the hub world, are populated by Pinatas, all of whom have funny little reactions to being squirted or jumping on and offer vague hints to your goal for that Episode, which really helps to make the place feel alive compared to Peach’s Castle, which was basically deserted.

Some Episodes spice things up but the game’s aesthetic doesn’t really alter until the final stage!

Though each stage doesn’t really deviate from the overall tropical theme, there are some distinctions to help them stand out; you’ll be traversing ropes and running up a hill in Bianco Hills, fly on the back of a stone bird through the skies of Gelato Beach, and dive into the polluted depths of Noki Bay, with different Episodes offering slightly different variations on each stage in an attempt to spice things up. Things don’t really become visually different until you reach the eighth and final stage, Corona Mountain, which is a volcano full of instant death spikes and lava and awkward boat steering sections.

Beautifully done, fully voiced cutscenes tell the game’s simple story.

The game relates its incredibly basic story with beautiful, fully voiced cutscenes. While Mario still only communicates through pantomime and characters use the tried-and-tested speech bubbles outside of the cutscenes, it’s refreshing to see Mario embracing full motion cutscenes for a change. As for its soundtrack, long-time series composer Koji Kondo and Shinobu Tanaka largely eschew the traditional Mario themes for an appropriately tropical theme which, while fitting for the game’s aesthetic, wasn’t quite as memorable to me as Super Mario 64’s music.

Enemies and Bosses:
Despite taking place in an entirely new environment, Super Mario Sunshine sees the return of a number of Mario’s traditional enemies, though many have undergone a slight aesthetic change to better fit in with their tropical locations. This means you’ll be coming across Bob-ombs, Boos, Bullet Bills, and Piranha Plants but you won’t just be able to smack them or jump on the to take them out this time. Instead, you generally must make use of F.L.U.D.D. to clean them off, whittle them down, expose them, or stun them to toss them at other enemies.

You’ll need more than the direct approach to take out the game’s array of enemies.

You’ll also come across a number of new enemies as you explore Isle Delfino’s sun-drenched locations, many of which are rather troublesome to take care of: Chain Chomplets must be doused with water until they cool off and then ricocheted into water to dispose of them; Cataquacks will fling you into the air when you get near and must be stunned with water so you can butt stomp them; and the Electrokoopas will throw their electrifying shell at you and are only vulnerable for a short time. By far one of the worst obstacles, though, are the swirling clouds that appear in various Episodes; these will dart at you and are very difficult to dodge, meaning you’ll probably be knocked out of the air mid-jump or sent plummeting off a high ledge to have to climb all the way back up again.

You’ll come up against a few mini bosses on more than one occasion.

Super Mario Sunshine features far more bosses than its predecessor; some of these are more like mini bosses, such as the aforementioned chases against Shadow Mario, the Piranha Plants made of sludge that need water sprayed into their mouths until they are defeated in order to open up new areas, and the Monty Moles who incessantly shoot Bob-ombs and Bullet Bills at you from cannons.

Petey Piranha and Glooper Blooper pop up for a couple of boss battles.

Twice in the game you’ll have to contend with Petey Piranha and Glooper Blooper in Bianco Hills and Rico Harbour, respectively. The first time you battle Petey, it’s in an enclosed area and he shoots gunk at you that spawns enemies or headbutts you if you get too close. The second time, he’s flying around Biano Hills and must be shot out of the sky but, in both battles, you must frantically squirt water into his mouth to make him reel over and vulnerable to a ground pound. Glooper Blooper, meanwhile, sits there spitting ink at you and trying to squash you with its tentacles; you must ground pound all (or most) of his tentacles to give yourself enough time to pull out the cork stuck in his mouth and send him flying away (though you can make this easier by pulling off his tentacles in the same way).

Wiggler and King Boo return, bigger and badder than ever!

As in Super Mario 64, you’ll also battle Wiggler and King Boo; this time around, Wiggler is a far more troublesome foe as he stomps around Gelato Beach in random patterns and can only be toppled over by causing sandcastles to spring up beneath his feet, leaving him open for a ground pound or three. King Boo is also far more formidable; this time, you have to content with three spinning rings and a roulette, which will see enemies, Coins, and fruit tossed into the arena. The only way to damage this King Boo is to grab a spicy red pepper, toss it at him, and then toss a different fruit at him three times, which isn’t immediately obvious when you first drop into the arena.

Phantamanta and Eely-Mouth can be frustrating boss battles.

Two of the game’s more unique, if frustrating and troublesome, bosses, for me, were Sirena Beach’s Phantamanta and Noki Bay’s Eely-Mouth. The Phantamanta is little more than a shadow that glides over the sandy beaches and resort leaving icky sludge in its wake; spraying it with water is the key to defeating it but, every time you do, it splits into smaller and smaller parts which, combined with the life-sapping sludge, can make this a tricky battle. Eely-Mouth is a giant eel fought in the dark depths of Noki Bay; Mario dons a diver’s suit for this battle, which means you are constantly fighting with the controls as Mario bops and hovers and darts all over the place seemingly at random, slowly drowning as time passing, and you’re desperately left trying to clean the eel’s foul, rotten teeth with F.L.U.D.D. to unearth a golden tooth that is your true goal without drowning or being eaten up.

It’s tough to get a good shot at Mecha Bowser since you’re strapped to a rollercoaster!

Though a prominent force throughout the game, you never actually battle Shadow Mario in a boss battle; after being revealed to be Bowser Jr in disguise, you take on a giant mechanical version of Bowser in Pinna Park. In this battle, you’re forced into a rollercoaster and must shoot rockets at Mecha Bowser while also blasting Bullet Bills out of the sky. While this is good practice for a particularly annoying timed Shine mission that has you shooting balloons with just as little control, the rollercoaster’s constant speed and spinning means getting a clear shot is easier said than done and that’s without factoring in Mecha Bowser’s fire breath.

Bowser might be gigantic but the biggest hazard is the precarious nature of the boss arena.

After finally getting through the treacherous Coronoa Mountain, you’ll go head-to-head with Bowser once more; this time, he’s grown to giant size and is sitting inside of a jacuzzi tub full of caustic water. Bowser tries to fry you with his fire breath and burn you with the acid-like sludge while Bowser Jr shoots homing Bullet Bills at you. The only way to win this battle is to use F.L.U.D.D.’s rocket nozzle to perform five rocket-powered ground pounds at the five spokes of the arena. However, while this eventually leads to Bowser’s defeat, it causes the already-unstable arena to further crumble and the two dragon-turtle’s attacks to increase in speed. Still, probably the hardest thing about this boss battle is not slipping or tumbling from the arena and to your death.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Although Mario can still collect 1-Up Mushrooms for extra lives, Yellow Coins for health, and both Red and Blue Coins for Shines, there are no invincibility power-ups to be found this time around and, after swapping flowers and capes for special caps in Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine primarily revolves around you making good use of F.L.U.D.D. to traverse the game’s various tropical environments.

The rocket and turbo nozzle allow you to blast away in a burst of speed!

Though versatile, F.L.U.D.D. is largely more of a pain in the ass than an asset thanks to some awkward controls and mechanics at times. However, you can acquire a couple of additional nozzles to make things a bit easier; the rocket nozzle allows you to charge up and release a burst of water to go flying high into the sky and the turbo nozzle allows you to blast away across both land and water, both of which are incredibly useful for reaching new areas and out of reach or temporary Blue Coins.

Yoshi finally gets his time in the sun (…literally) but be sure to keep him away from water!

After being relegated to an after-game cameo in Super Mario 64, clearing the fourth Episode of Pinna Park will see Yoshi eggs appear in each of Super Mario Sunshine’s stages (with the exception of Corona Mountain) and the hub world. If you bring the egg the fruit it asks for, it will hatch and you’ll finally be able to ride either a pink, orange, or purple Yoshi! Yoshi can eat up fruits and certain enemies with his long tongue, use his flutter jump to reach platforms, and each Yoshi can create goopy platforms of a different nature (ascending, stationary, and forward-moving, respectively). As great as it is to actually be able to ride on Yoshi, though, there are some drawbacks; the first is that you can’t ride the traditional green Yoshi, then there’s the fact that he can’t spit fireballs and his supply of fruit drains over time, and, of course, the glaring flaw that your Yoshi will explode when it comes into contact with water, which is particularly frustrating when trying to reach a secret Shine in Delfino Plaza.

Additional Features:
Similar to how Mario’s brother was left with a purely solo adventure for his GameCube outing, this is once again a solo adventure for Mario; even after clearing the game, you can’t unlock any additional characters to play as, which is a real shame considering we missed out on playing as Luigi in Super Mario 64.

Finish the game and you’ll get to wear a snazzy shirt and revisit the airstrip.

If you talk to the various Pinatas in the game’s Episodes after collecting enough Shines, they’ll eventually gift you a pair of sunglasses that slightly darken the game’s presentation. After clearing the game for the first time, you can pair these with a super snazzy Hawaiian shirt (though neither of these can be worn outside of the Episode you are playing, unfortunately). Clearing the game once also allows you to return to the Delfino Airstrip to collect eight Red Coins for another Shine.

Getting all 120 Shines will require more patience and skill than I have…

While that’s slightly more than in Super Mario 64, it’s still a bit disappointing; once again, you don’t need all 120 Shines to clear the game but having them all slightly changes the ending you get. However, obtaining them all is no mean feat; I finished the game with 90 Shines, which was all eight stage-based Shines, all 100 Coin Shines, and a handful found around the hub world but, to get them all, you’re going to need to find all of those Blue Coins and secret stages, which can be needlessly frustrating.

The Summary:
I was super excited to finally play Super Mario Sunshine; I missed out on it back when I was playing the GameCube on the regular and have been putting off getting it for ages (literally years). The bright, colourful graphics and my fond memories of Super Mario 64 really appealed to me and fuelled my desire to finally get my hands on this game.

As great as it looks, I was left disappointed and frustrated by the lack of variety and awkwardness.

Yet, despite a promising start, I was left disappointed. There’s a lot to see and do and to like; the graphics are gorgeous, the F.L.U.D.D. concept is interesting (if flawed), and it’s great to be able to ride Yoshi again but there are so many frustrating elements to the game that really let it down. There’s very little stage variety, too many missions per stage (with too many repeating, such as the Red Coin challenges), too much water for my liking (no matter how fitting it is for the game’s setting), and just far too many instances where you slip or fall from platforms, ledges, or ceilings or fail to make jumps because of an awkward camera angle or Mario just deciding to miss or fall. The secret obstacle course stages are an absolute ball ache and, just as the game seems to be getting interesting, it’s over in uncharacteristically anticlimactic fashion, leaving me feeling disheartened and drained rather than encouraged to hunt down the last few Shines.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What are your thoughts on Super Mario Sunshine? Did you play it on the GameCube back in the day or, like me, did you first experience it on the Nintendo Switch? What did you think to F.L.U.D.D. and the game’s tropical island setting? Were you also frustrated by the controls, mechanics, and over-reliance on the setting or did you, perhaps, enjoy the different direction the game took and the challenge it offered? Were you glad to be riding Yoshi again and did you manage to find all 120 Shines? What other setting would you like to see Mario placed into? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and pop back next Wednesday for the final instalment of Mario Month!

Game Corner [Mario Month]: Super Mario 64 (Nintendo Switch)

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties. To commemorate Mario Day this year, I’ve made March “Mario Month” and am spending each Wednesday talking about everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber.

Released: 18 September 2020
Originally Released: 23 June 1996
Developer: Nintendo
Original Developer: Nintendo EAD
Also Available For: Nintendo 64, Nintendo DS (Remake), Nintendo Wii (Virtual Console)

The Background:
By the end of 1983, the videogame industry was dead after crumbling under the weight of countless overpriced consoles and poor quality titles. From the ashes, Nintendo stepped in and pretty much single-handedly rebuilt the industry with the release of the Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom)/Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), a machine marketed not as another home videogame console but as a more market-friendly “Entertainment System”. The videogame industry was resurrected from the dead with the NES and the blockbuster success of Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 1985) and given a massive kick into overdrive following the release of the SEGA Mega Drive and Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991). The “Console Wars” of the mid-nineties resulted in some of the greatest 8- and 16-bit releases, a series of videogames that defined an entire generation, and ensured that videogames were big business once more. Very quickly, though, the story became about which developer could be the more innovative than the other and who would crack 3D gaming first. SEGA attempted to break into the 32-bit arena with a series of expensive add-ons for the Mega Drive while Nintendo played the long game, discussing various CD-based options with both Sony and Panasonic and inadvertently creating one of the industry’s biggest gaming powerhouses, the PlayStation, when talks with Sony fell apart.

After cutting ties with Sony, Nintendo developed their own 64-bit machine.

Initially developed as the “Ultra 64”, the Nintendo 64 was Nintendo’s first fully-3D home console and was officially announced to the world on 24 November 1995; although the console favoured more expensive and limited cartridges over CD-ROMS, this dramatically sped up the load times of its titles and helped to reduce piracy. The console also utilised a unique (and massively under-rated) controller that included an analogue stick for full 3600 movement and could be fitted with Rumble and Memory Paks, and the system launched a number of first- and third-party titles that would be exclusive to the console. One such title was, of course, Super Mario 64. Developed over the course of three years, Super Mario 64 sought to showcase exactly what the Nintendo 64 was capable of by offering large, open 3D worlds that allowed for exploration, experimentation, and offered a diverse field of view. The game was a massive critical and financial success and is still the best-selling Nintendo 64 videogame of all time; just as Super Mario Bros. had set the standard for 2D sidescrolling platformers back in the day, so too did Super Mario 64 set the standard for 3D platformers in this new era of gaming. The game was later ported to the Nintendo DS in what is, in my view, the definitive version of the game thanks to the additional elements it provides but it was also included in Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Nintendo, 2020) for the Nintendo Switch, which is the version I’ll be looking at today.

The Plot:
Princess Toadstool (finally referred to as “Peach” for the first time outside of Japan) invites Mario to her castle with the promise of cake but, when he arrives, he finds that the diabolical Bowser, King of the Koopas, has kidnapped the Princess and hidden the castle’s Power Stars within a series of paintings throughout the castle. Never one to back down from a challenge, and motivated by the promise of a sweet treat, Mario leaps into the castle’s magical paintings to retrieve the Stars and rescue Peach and the castle’s Toad guards from Bowser’s clutches.

I think it’s safe to say that everyone who owned a Nintendo 64 back in the day also owned Super Mario 64; it was the first (and, for a long time, the only) Nintendo 64 title I had when I got the console and all of my friends had it, too. Thanks to the realities of life, it was also the first Nintendo home console I owned and the first main-line Mario game I had ever owned and, honestly, it was a pretty great way to experience of Mario’s unique world and cast of characters (not to mention mind-boggling through its crisp 3D models and tight controls).

Peach’s Castle is the game’s hub world, with Stars hidden in paintings and needed to open doors.

Super Mario 64 is a 3D action/platformer in which you play as the titular Mario. The game takes place entirely within Princess Peach’s Castle and the grounds outside of it; within the castle are a series of magical paintings that lead Mario to a total of fifteen Courses, each with six mission-based Power Stars to collect and one hidden Star. You can also find a number of additional secret Stars in other paintings and mini Courses scattered throughout the castle and you’ll need to collect a certain amount in order to open doors to more Courses. Once you have enough Stars, however, Courses can be attempted in any order you wish but you may be limited in what you can do if you haven’t unlocked the game’s three cap-based power-ups and you’ll need a boss key to access the castle’s upper and lower areas, plus at least seventy Power Stars to battle the final boss and all 120 to see the game through to 100% completion.

You’re required to fulfill certain objectives to acquire each Course’s Stars.

When you enter a Course, you must select a Star Mission to tackle; at first, you’ll only be told of the first mission but, once you’re in the Course, you can generally attempt to obtain any Star you wish (with some exceptions). This means that you can free the Chain-Chomp instead of racing Koopa the Quick, for example. Each Star comes with a vague hint about how to acquire it (“Lil’ Penguin Lost” or “Shining Atop the Pyramid”) but it’s not always massively clear what you have to do to obtain these Stars, encouraging exploration and experimentation (or a quick Google search). Collecting one hundred Yellow Coins in every Course will also award you with a Power Star and, sometimes, you’ll have to revisit secret Courses to obtain another Star you may have missed but, generally, the Star Missions are quite similar across all courses (battle a boss, find five secret areas, utilise a cap, scale to the top, etc).

Mario’s jumping abilities have vastly improved.

As in his 2D outings, Mario’s primary form of traversal and attacking is his ability to jump but this ability has been expanded exponentially to allow for a far more diverse means of movement and to showcase the capabilities of the Nintendo 64. Pressing jump once will see Mario perform a hop; press it again and he will jump higher, and press it a third time while running and Mario will somersault even higher, allowing him to reach out-of-reach ledges with ease. If you press the R button while running and then press jump, Mario will throw himself forwards to cover faster distances in one dramatic leap, which is great for reaching faraway platforms or navigating Mario at a faster pace.

Mario’s wall kick helps him reach higher areas…when you can see what you’re doing…

It doesn’t end there, either; Mario gains momentum as he runs and jumps, meaning if you jump onto an enemy’s head while running, you’ll get a boost upwards and jump further. He can also perform a wall kick to scale vertical shafts quickly but not, it has to be said, with a great deal of ease; as will come up numerous times in this review, the wall kick is somewhat hampered by the game’s janky camera and how difficult it can be to properly judge your perspective and alignment to certain walls and objects. When you can pull it off though (which, to be fair, is more often than not and can be perfected with practise), it’s a nifty little trick that you can combine with long jumps and triple jumps to move Mario’s pudgy behind at a break-neck pace.

Mario has a lot of melee attacks to send enemies flying.

For what I believe is a first in the series, Mario can also perform a series of melee attacks to fend off his foes. Pressing the attack button once will see him perform a punch but press it twice more and he’ll perform another punch followed by a big ol’ kick to send enemies flying. You can also perform a sweep kick while crouching, a jump kick, and a diving attack by running, jumping, and hitting the attack button, a ground-pound (where Mario will flatten enemies with his butt), and also pick up certain blocks and even enemies to toss them at other enemies. It’s quite a deep control scheme, to be honest, offering a range of smooth and crisp combat and movement options; you can run Mario in any direction at full speed and, with a twitch of the analogue stick and a press of the jump button, side-flip around to get the drop on enemies, wall kick your way up to otherwise inaccessible areas, or backflip your way to another Power Star with ease.

Although Mario can grab edges, the camera makes it easy to slip or misjudge your jumps.

Mario can also grab onto ledges to save himself from accidental falls and pull himself up from tricky jumps; however, this isn’t as reliable as you might think and it’s just as easy to bounce head-first off of a platform or ledge and fall to your death or go careening down a bottomless pit or into a river of butt-burning lava. Similarly, the game’s camera can sometimes get stuck behind other objects, which can cause it (and Mario) to freak out a bit; Mario also stutters and jitters if positioned too close to an edge and will most likely fall to his death if you don’t quickly tap that jump button.

Mario visably feels the affects of low health but it’s easily replenished through a variety of means.

Thankfully, Mario is far more durable than in the majority of Mario videogames; he has a life bar (represented be a colourful pie chart) that loses a segment each time he takes a hit or other damage. Once all segments are drained, Mario loses a life and is unceremoniously spat out of the Course he was in and will have to attempt the Course over from the beginning. Luckily, Mario can refill his health by running through spinning Hearts dotted around each Course, collecting Coins, or taking a dip in water and is only dependant on Mushrooms to gain an extra life.

Be sure to get your cap back as quick as you can if you lose it as you take double damage without it!

Take care when swimming, however, as Mario’s health will slowly deplete and he’ll eventually drown unless you collect Coins or suck in an air bubble and he’s also not capable of surviving being sucked into quicksand. Compounding matters is the fact that certain enemies and hazards will cause Mario’s iconic cap to fly off; if you lose your cap, be sure to collect it as quickly as possible as you’ll take double damage without it!

Graphics and Sound:
Even now, after the release of so many technically superior 3D action/platformers, Super Mario 64 holds up ridiculously well. It’s a testament to how diligently Shigeru Miyamoto and his team worked to showcase the power and capability of the Nintendo 64 as character models still look spot on to this day, seamlessly retaining their quality and stability (unless you move Mario too far away from the camera, of course), and the game is just as silky smooth as ever. Sure, Bowser doesn’t look so great these days (and he, along with all of the character models, were vastly improved in the DS remake) but it’s cute to see all of Mario’s eccentricities, from his enthusiastic shouts when he hops around, his triumphant cry of “Her-r-re we go-o-o!” whenever he grabs a Star, and the way he falls into a mumbling sleep when he’s left idle for a short time.

Bob-omb Battlefield is a perfect introduction to the game’s basic mechanics.

Having said that, though, there are some issues that are more noticeable with the benefit of hindsight. The game’s Courses vary wildly in their scope and quality; the first, Bob-omb Battlefield, is basically a tutorial area where you’ll quickly get to grips with the game’s controls and mechanics. As user friendly as you could like, Bob-omb Battlefield features some basic enemies and hazards and is completely devoid of bottomless pits, something the vast majority of the game’s other Course cannot say.

In most Courses, you’re only one stupid mistake away from plummeting to your death.

Courses like Whomp’s Fortress, Cool, Cool Mountain, and Tall, Tall Mountain are all much more limited in their scope, substituting a quasi-sandbox arena for vertically-themed stages that hover over a bottomless pit, meaning you’re always one stupid mistake away from falling to your death. Things don’t get really frustrating, however, until you reach the game’s final Courses; Tick Tock Clock and Rainbow Ride suspend you over a vast, empty void that will truly test your skill and patience thanks to the game’s dodgy camera and some very tricky and frustrating platforming elements.

Courses are carefully thought-out sandboxes restricted only by the finicky camera.

Other stages, like Jolly Roger Bay and Hazy Maze Cave, also feature an abundance of water; this isn’t a massive issue as Mario is quite a capable swimmer but he’s not exactly a fast swimmer and the game’s controls noticeably lag when he’s under water. Combine this with the aforementioned camera troubles and how easy it is for the camera to get stuck behind objects and these Courses can be difficult to navigate. The camera is serviceable for the most part, to be fair, and automatically and diligently following Mario around to provide the optimal viewpoint but Nintendo really should have integrated full 3600 camera control into the Switch version to correct this one glaring flaw.

There’s both variety and a lack of variety in Super Mario 64‘s Courses…

Still, the game offers a fair amount of variety in its Courses; Big Boo’s Haunt and Lethal Lava Land are standouts for me thanks to their unique mechanics and visual presentation but, at the same time, it lacks variety in a number of other instances. For example, Jolly Roger Bay and Dire, Dire Docks are essentially the same stage with the same music and, as much as I like Snowman’s Land, did we really need two snow/ice-themed stages? Plus, playing the game now, it’s really hard not to notice how basic a lot of the stage geometry is; everything is very angular and blocky, which isn’t surprising given it was a Nintendo 64 launch title, but it’s one of the many reasons why I prefer Banjo-Kazooie (Rare, 1998) since it improved and expanded upon everything Super Mario 64 pioneered.

Cutscenes with some charming voice acting bookend the game’s plot.

The game only really has a handful of cutscenes, all of which are rendered using the in-game graphics and are simply there to establish the game’s simple plot, relay that you’ve opened up new areas or discovered a Star, and convey the game’s ending. These are accompanied by a few instances of voice acting from Peach as Mario, Bowser, and other enemies are limited to a few sound bites, grunts, and yelps, which adds to the game’s cartoonish charm. Finally, Super Mario 64 is bolstered by a bombastic and catchy soundtrack from long-time Mario and Nintendo composer Koji Kondo; a lot of the tracks are re-used on multiple Courses but they’re so fitting and memorable that I can forgive it and if you don’t find yourself humming along to the main castle theme then you honestly have no soul.

Enemies and Bosses:
If I’m being brutally honest, Super Mario 64 doesn’t feature much in the way of enemy variety; within the first handful of Courses, you’ll have encountered pretty much all of the enemies and hazards the game has to offer but, to be fair, these are all used sparingly and to great effect. They’re generally present to cause you some issues when trying to jump and clamber up to new areas rather than being formidable challenges in their own right; you’re far more likely to get bumped off a ledge and to your death rather than beaten to a pulp by these enemies.

Some of Mario’s most iconic enemies get a slick 3D makeover.

You’ll come up against classic Mario enemies such as Goombas (who now hop up in alarm and charge at you head-first when you cross their eye line), Bob-ombs (who chase you relentlessly as their fuse ominously burns down before exploding in a shower of Coins), Boos (who turn incorporeal when you face them so you’ll have to sneak up on them from behind or perform a backflip into a ground-pound), Koopas (give them a thump to ride their shell like a skateboard), and Shy Guys (annoying little bastards that buzz all around you shooting fireballs your way and send Mario into a whirlwind spin if he jumps on them). Each of these has been brought to life with a snazzy 3D makeover that imbues them with simple, but charming, attack and movement patterns and characteristics.

Watch out for the game’s larger and more troublesome enemies…

You’ll also come up against some new enemies; Amps will spin around in a tight circle and electrocute Mario if he touches them, Bubba will swallow him whole if he enters the water while exploring the “Tiny” side of Tiny-Huge Island, three different varieties of Bullies will try to knock Mario off platforms and to his death, Chuckyas and Heave-Hos will also try to throw Mario to his doom, and Klepto and Ukkiki will steal Mario’s cap if given half a chance. You’ll also have to sneak up on the sleeping Piranha Plants to knock them out without getting bitten and watch out for that Goddamn piano in Big Boo’s Haunt as it’ll randomly spring to life to scare the piss out of you!

The strategy for beating these two will serve you well for the remainder of the game’s bosses.

Not every Course in Super Mario 64 has a boss battle but nine out of fourteen isn’t bad. The first one you come across, King Bob-omb, teaches you the fundamental mechanics Mario will need to defeat not only Chuckyas but also Bowser himself as you’ll have to run around the King to grab him from behind and then throw him three times without being thrown off the top of his mountain to defeat him. The second boss, the Whomp King, is even easier to defeat; simply run beneath him or dodge out of the way when he tries to squash you and ground-pound his back three times and he’ll burst into pieces to award you a Star.

Big Boos and big eyes haunt the decrepit mansion…

In Big Boo’s Haunt, you’ll do battle with three Big Boos but, despite their intimidating size, they’re as easily dispatched as any other Boo with the only troublesome one being the Big Boo you battle on the balcony at the top of the haunted house because of the risk of falling. You’ll also encounter a large variant of the Mr. I enemy in this Course but, again, it’s defeated in exactly the same way as any other Mr. I (simply run around it until it gets dizzy and explodes). You’ll also encounter larger variants of existing enemies in Lethal Lava Land and Snowman’s Land, in this case the Bullies; again, though, the hardest thing about fighting these guys is making sure you don’t accidentally slip off the small platform you fight them on or let them push you into the molten lava or freezing water, respectively.

Bosses might be big and talk a good game but they go down pretty easily.

Finally, you’ll have to do battle with the Eyerock inside the pyramid in Shifting Sand Land and a Wiggler on Tiny-Huge Island; the Eyerock is probably the most challenging boss before the final battle with Bowser as it constantly shields its one (well, two really) weak point (the eye) in its rock-like fists, tries to squash you at every opportunity, and can easily shove you off the platform and to your death (luckily, though, you’ll restart right before this battle if you immediately enter the painting again). The Wrigger is pretty much the same basic deal as the Whomp King; although he looks intimidating due to his size, he only looks big because you’re small and you simply ground-pound him three times to take him out, making sure to dodge him as he wriggles around the arena faster and faster with each hit.

Bowser is a bit of a pushover the first time you face him…

The game’s true boss is, of course, Bowser, Mario’s long-time enemy and most persistent foe. You’ll battle Bowser three times and each time you must have the correct number of Stars to access a troublesome mini Course that leads to the Warp Pipe into Bower’s arena. Each time you face Bowser, the general strategy is the same; avoid his attacks and run around him to grab his tail, then rotate the analogue stick to swing him around and then press the attack button to send him flying into one of the many bombs that line the outskirts of each arena. The first time you face Bowser, he’s pretty weak; he’ll stomp around in a circle, slowly spitting fireballs at you, and isn’t much of a threat as long as you don’t run into him, get hit by his burning flames, or fall off the platform and you’ll only have to toss him into a bomb once to take him out, making him functionally weaker than King Bob-omb.

Things (literally) heat up in the second encounter with Bowser…

The second battle ramps things up a bit; Bowser can still be defeated with one bomb but he’ll now jump up and come crashing down on the platform, tilting it into a steep angle that will send you sliding into a bomb yourself or down to the fiery depths below. Bowser also now teleports across the arena if you get too close to him to prolong the battle and will tilt the stage each time he leaps up to the arena from a missed throw so make sure your accuracy is on point when you send him flying.

Bowser isn’t messing around in the third and final fight and throws everything he has at Mario!

The final battle is where Bowser really brings his A game; the music is far more ominous and foreboding and Bowser can now charge at you, spit a slew of fireballs onto the arena (including blue ones that bounce all over the place) and produce shockwaves that must be jumped over every time he lands from a jump. To make matters worse, Bowser must now be thrown three times before he is defeated and, after taking two hits, will stomp around the arena in a tantrum, causing parts of it break off until it resembles a Star and limiting your options for escape and movement. It’s not all bad, though; some of Bowser’s flames will produce Coins to replenish your health and, technically, the strategy remains the same; as with every Bowser battle, it’s just a question of patience and getting your shot lined up to throw him into the final bomb and finally get your cake!

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Although Mario can still collect a 1-Up Mushroom for an instant extra life and three different types of Coins (Gold, Red, and Blue, each offering different increments to your total Coin count), no other traditional Mario power-ups are present and unlike in other Mario videogames where Mario would collect a Super Mushroom to grow bigger and gain an extra hit or a Fire Flower to throw fireballs at enemies, Super Mario 64 takes inspiration from Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Nintendo R&D1, 1992) and Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (ibid, 1994) by giving Mario access to three different caps to aid his progress.

Soar through the sky, pass through walls, or become invincible with Mario’s special caps.

The Wing Cap gives Mario the ability to fly after performing a triple jump or being shot out of a cannon; by diving and pulling up, you can fly higher and further but just make sure you land before it wears off or you’ll suffer a damaging fall. The Vanish Cap turns Mario invisible and incorporeal, allowing him to walk through enemies and wired cages and the Metal Cap allows Mario to walk underwater and renders him functionally invincible at the cost of his speed and more elaborate jumping mechanics. Each cap must be activated by ground-pounding giant switches inside three different hidden mini Courses and are essential to collecting all 120 Power Stars but, it has to be said, their use is surprisingly sparse and you’ll be relying on Mario’s base moveset for the vast majority of the castle’s challenges.

Additional Features:
As big and involving as Super Mario 64 is, there’s sadly not a whole lot of replay value to be had especially compared to the DS remake, which featured four playable characters, additional Courses and Stars, and mini games to pass the time. You can mess around with Mario’s big, goofy 3D face on the title screen, stretching and distorting it at your leisure, which is a nice touch, and the game also allows you to have four different save files and to erase or copy each one, allowing for multiple playthroughs.

Secret Stars are hidden in each Course and all over the castle so search everywhere.

Additionally, while you only need seventy Stars to take on the final battle against Bowser and clear the game, you won’t get 100% completion unless you collect all 120 Stars. This is easier said than done, especially on Courses like Wet-Dry World, Tall, Tall Mountain, and Rainbow Ride which have lots of difficult platforming sections, bottomless pits, and barely enough Coins for you to get those hidden one hundred Stars. You’ll also need to search the castle thoroughly for hidden Courses (like the Princess’s secret slide), talk to the Toads scattered throughout the castle, and catch Mips the Rabbit to find some hidden Stars. Stars are also obtained by finding eight Red Coins in the cap and Bowser stages and other hidden Courses around the castle; luckily, you can track your progress from the pause menu and from the file selection screen so you always know where you might have missed a Star or two.

Find all 120 Stars and you’ll get…very little of value, to be honest…

Sadly, though, finding all 120 Stars doesn’t really offer much in terms of a reward. If you defeat Bowser with all 120, he’ll have some slightly different dialogue to acknowledge your efforts and, after reloading your completed save file, you’ll find you now have access to a cannon on the castle grounds. Use this to blast yourself onto the castle rooftop and you’ll find Yoshi, who has a special thank you message from the developers and awards you with one hundred lives before buggering off. Unfortunately, though, this is completely redundant as you’ve beaten the game and acquired every Star so there’s no real incentive to explore the completed Courses again with your abundance of lives. Perhaps it would have been better to have Yoshi be accessible from a new save file, or even placed within Courses to offer a new Star challenge. Hell, I would have even accepted a ‘New Game+’ mode where the entire game is mirrored but, instead, you get a tantalising cameo and a whole shit load of extra lives that are basically pointless as you’re more likely to just start a new game from scratch than to go back through stages you’ve already completed to 100%.

The Summary:
Super Mario 64 is still an absolutely gorgeous and incredibly fun gaming experience; even now, some twenty-three years after its release, it still holds up remarkable well as one of the tightest, slickest, and most engaging 3D platformers ever. While the likes of Banjo-Kazooie and Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998) are technically far superior games, Super Mario 64 set a standard for all 3D platformers to strive to achieve and which many failed to match.

Sadly, Nintendo didn’t take the time to improve on the game’s few shortcomings for the Switch port.

It cannot be denied, however, that the game does still have some lingering issues; the camera, for all its diversity, is the most glaring and Mario’s tendency to get a bit stuck on platform edges or to hug walls when standing too close to them as well as his willingness to just slip to his death can all lead to some frustratingly unfair deaths and game overs but, for the most part, all of the game’s shortcomings can be overcome with the right degree of patience, skill, and experience. Once you master the game’s simple controls and mechanics, you can perform all kinds of nifty tricks and feats to aid your progress and you’ll find that the game has given you more than enough tools to find all 120 Stars if you’re skilled enough.

Super Mario 64 still holds up really well and is still one of the best 3D platformers ever made.

With its stunning, colourful visuals, tight and responsive controls, catchy music, and addictive gameplay that is easy to learn and master, Super Mario 64 is positively brimming with gameplay variety. There’s always a new area to unlock and explore, new Courses and hidden Stars to discover, and the attention to detail is staggering for a Nintendo 64 launch title. My only regret is that Nintendo didn’t add in a widescreen feature or patch in that two player co-op mode they had planned or even the ability to play as Luigi after finding all 120 Stars in the Switch version but none of that diminishes the fundamental appeal of Super Mario 64.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Did you play Super Mario 64 back in the day? Was it your first game for the Nintendo 64 or did you pick it up later? Perhaps you first experienced it on the Nintendo DS; if so, which version of the game do you think is the best? Which of the game’s Power Stars, Courses, enemies, or bosses caused you the most (or the least) hassle? Do you think Yoshi and his one hundred lives was a good enough reward or would you have liked to see something else; if so, what? What are your fondest memories of the Nintendo 64? Perhaps you hated the system; if so, why (and what’s wrong with you?) Whatever you think, comment below and let me know and don’t forget to come back next week for more Mario content.

Game Corner [Mario Month]: Mario Bros. (Nintendo Switch)

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties. To commemorate Mario Day this year, I’m making March “Mario Month” and celebrating everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber every Wednesday from today.

Released: September 2018
Originally Released: 9 September 1983
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Also Available For: Amstrad CPC, Apple II FM-7, Arcade, Atari, Commodore 64, Game & Watch, Game Boy Advance, ZX Spectrum, Nintendo 3DS (Virtual Console), Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Wii (Virtual Console), PC-88

The Background:
Mario made his inauspicious debut in Donkey Kong (Nintendo R&D2/Ikegami Tsushinki, 1983); in that game, the avatar formally known as “Jumpman” would die from the briefest of falls and was originally a carpenter. However, after playing with the concept and exploring other gameplay mechanics, creator Shigeru Miyamoto redesigned Mario into a format where he would be capable of carrying his own arcade title (fitting, considering Miyamoto originally intended for Mario to be Nintendo’s go-to, catch-all character to feature in numerous titles and roles). Released in Japan on 14 July 1983 and in North America on the 20th, Mario Bros. featured Mario (and introduced his palette-swapped brother, Luigi) knocking over baddies in the sewers of New York. Though the arcade cabinet was only modestly successful in Japan, the NES port sold over 1.60 million copies and, despite the title being massively overshadowed by its NES follow-up, the title has been ported to numerous systems, the most recent of which being the Nintendo Switch, which is the version I’ll be talking about today.

The Plot:
The sewers have been infested by all kinds of creepy-crawlies and only two portly plumber brothers have the jumping skills necessary to clear the pipes!

Mario Bros. is a wraparound platformer in which players take control of either Mario or Luigi and venture through thirty-five largely-similar stages (called “Phases”); the stages are set within the sewers of New York City and, as was popular in arcade games, players and enemies can exit on the left side of the screen and emerge on the other (or vice versa) to endlessly loop around the one-screen stages.

Bop enemies from underneath to tip them over and dispatch them all to clear the Phase.

In Donkey Kong, Mario’s only defence was to jump over hazards or grab a hammer and smash them to pieces; in Mario Bros., the hammer is gone and titular brothers still can’t dispatch enemies by jumping on them. The only way to take out the game’s handful of enemies is to attack them from below; as they pass overhead, jump at the platform above you and you’ll either topple the enemy over or deal some damage to get them prepped to be knocked over, and then you can run into them to kill them off and earn some points. Dispatch all onscreen enemies and you’ll have cleared that Phase and can move on to the next; wash, rinse, and repeat. This is easier said than done, however; one of the biggest complaints I have with playing Mario videogames (especially the 2D titles) is how slippery and unwieldy Mario can be and Mario Bros. is no different. The characters slip and slide all over the place, meaning it’s pretty easy to run head-first into an enemy or miss-time a jump as you fly right past the platform edge.

The game speeds up as you progress, making that high score harder to obtain.

At the same time, Mario’s jump is nerfed; it’s literally like trying to run on ice and jump underwater as the moment you press the jump button, gravity does everything it can to make vertical movement difficult for you. You simply lose all momentum and easily miss a jump even when you’re standing right next to it, which can be frustrating when you’re just trying to make a simple jump upwards or across. Luckily, Mario and Luigi don’t take fall damage but, like a lot of titles at the time, it’s one-hit kills and there is no health bar or health power-ups. As you might expect, then, the objective is to defeat enemies and collect Coins in order to earn the highest score possible, earning more points for taking out enemies simultaneously. There’s not a lot to the game; Phases remain largely the same but enemies and hazards increase in speed and difficulty as you progress and you are invited to collect as many Coins as possible in the game’s timed Bonus Stages every now and then in order to increase your score.

Graphics and Sound:
It’s hard to get a more classic, pure-blood 8-bit title than Mario Bros.; it belongs in the same conversation as titles like Donkey Kong, Pac-Man (Namco, 1980), and Space Invaders (Taito, 1978) for traditional, 2D arcade action. By utilising a far more stripped back aesthetic and stage layout compared to Donkey Kong, the developers seem to have freed up some space for slightly more detailed sprites and enemy variety but it can’t be denied that it lacks the big, bold sprites of Donkey Kong.

The graphics are simple but there is a lot happening onscreen as things speed up.

While the Phases don’t change very much as you play, there are far more sprites onscreen at any one time (including two simultaneously playable characters if you have a friend to play with) and much more enemy variety compared to Donkey Kong. Luigi might be a simple recolour but it’s better than nothing and indicative of the hardware limitations of the time. What probably lets the game down the most beyond the lack of stage variety has to be the music as there’s no really memorable tunes here and it’s easy to see why this game would be forgotten compared to its big brother.

Enemies and Bosses:
Mario and Luigi will primarily be faced with little turtles known as Koopas Shellcreepers; though relatively harmless and predictable compared to the game’s other enemies, they’ll still kill you if they touch you so bump them from underneath to turn them on their shells and kick them out of there! You’ll also encounter Sidesteppers (which are basically just crabs and require two hits before they’ll tip over), and Fighter Flies (which hop around the stages) as you progress through later Phases.

Enemies increase in their frequency and difficulty but there are no bosses to fight here.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, red and green fireballs emerge from the pipes and sides of the screen, as does Slipice (which slides around and will transform platforms into literal ice unless you shatter them from beneath). Mario Bros. contains no boss battles or primary antagonist to test your skills against; instead, you’ll encounter more and more and increasingly-faster versions of these enemies. Each enemy will react to others or to Coins and change their direction, as well, meaning it can require a bit of strategy and forethought to topple them all when the Phases hit their highest difficulty.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
There is very little to aid Mario and Luigi in their quest to clear up the sewers; there are no power-ups to pick up or weapons to obtain, meaning you’re forced to rely on your skills and ability to work with the game’s dodgy physics and controls. You can, however, attack a “POW” block to flip every onscreen enemy in one screen-shaking hit. The “POW” block can only be hit three times, however, and once it’s gone you’ll have to wait until the next one spawns in after a Bonus Stage so it’s best to save it for the game’s harder Phases.

Additional Features:
As a conversion of an 8-bit arcade title, the primary objective of the game is to achieve, or beat, a high score. You can pick from four different modes: two are for a single player and two are for two players but, since I don’t have anyone to play with, I could only play the standard ‘Game A’ game. If you do have a friend, though, you have the option of playing as Mario and Luigi in two player co-op, which I’m sure increases the replay value to the game exponentially. Even better, the Nintendo Switch provides a few extra options to make things easier for you; using the Switch’s ‘suspend menu’ mode, you can create a save point at any time and rewind the game so you can correct any mistakes you might have made.

The Summary:
Mario Bros. is a decent enough port of the original arcade game. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really a lot to the game to begin with and the NES version doesn’t really add or improve upon the format very much. However, as fun a distraction as Mario Bros. is and as attractive as the old school 8-bit sprites look, it definitely wears out its welcome a lot faster than Donkey Kong or its follow-up title. Within the first three or five stages, you’ve basically seen everything there is that the game has to offer and, though the game increases in speed and difficulty, there’s just less to it compared to other arcade titles or even Donkey Kong, which requires far more skill to get through. As a videogame, Mario Bros. is much better as a mini game to be included in other Mario titles (as it was on the Game Boy Advance) rather than a full game in and of itself and it’s not surprising that Nintendo was able to improve upon this formula when the bar was set so low.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you ever play Mario Bros. back in the day, on NES or out in the arcade? What did you think to it compared to other Mario titles and arcade games of the time? Which of the two brothers did you always play as and what was your best score in the game? How are you celebrating Mario Day this year? No matter what you think about Mario Bros. or Mario games in general, leave a comment below and pop back next week for another review as part of Mario Month.