Released: 7 March 2012 Originally Released: 4 December October 1997 Developer: Konami Original Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Also Available For: Game Boy
A Brief Background: In the hierarchy of videogame characters, you would be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Goemon, the spiky-haired protagonist of Konami’s Ganbare Goemon series of adventure games. Loosely based on the legendary Robin Hood figure of Ishikawa Goemon, Goemon was first introduced to gamers back in 1986 as “Mr. Goemon” and was best known outside of Japan for his critically acclaimed Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) title, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (Konami, 1991). While the world was waiting with baited breath for the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time(Nintendo EAD, 1998), 3D adventure fans were treated to Goemon’s bizarre Nintendo 64 jaunt, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka, 1997), my first exposure to the character and the franchise and still one of my favourite N64 games of all time. Mystical Ninja was accompanied by this release for the original Game Boy, a divisive adventure title that was criticised for its high difficulty and for being a poor knock-off of The Legend of Zelda(Nintendo R&D4, 1986). Regardless, Mystical Ninja made its was to the 3DS Virtual Console in 2012 and, based on my enjoyment with the N64 title and desire to play something akin to the SNES game, I snapped it up before the service was shut down.
First Impressions: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon is a top-down action/adventure game far more in the style of The Legend of Zelda than its sidescrolling SNES predecessor and third-person N64 jaunt. The game’s story is split into chapters, with story text, dialogue boxes, and map screens depicting the efforts of Goemon, Ebisumaru, and Sasuke to rescue their friend Yae from the malevolent Black Ship Gang. Before each chapter, you can pick from one of the three protagonists, who all essentially control the same way and have the same abilities; each character has a weapon to attack with by pressing B and can jump by pressing A, though each has slightly different attributes. Goemon is an all-rounder, for example, while Ebisumaru’s jump isn’t quite as good as Sasuke’s. Like Link, you character will fire a projectile from their weapon when at full health, though you still have access to a projectile in the form of a limited supply of shurikens, which you can switch to by pressing ‘Select’ and each character has a different range to their shot. The pause screen brings up a rudimentary grid-like map that gives you some idea of where you are, where you’ve been, and where you need to go, though the game is pretty linear and it’s not especially difficult to find your way around. Each chapter starts you out in a town of some sort, one either ruined by enemies or that’s a port for the Black Ship Gang, and you can explore, chat to non-playable characters (NPCs) for some vague hints and lore, and visit shops and inns to replenish your health and ammo. This is the only way to refill your strength gauge outside of collecting Crystal of Life items from chests, which add an extra hit point to your bar and, as you only get one life and the game’s passwords make you start from the beginning of the chapter, this can make for an incredibly difficult gameplay experience.
You’ll wander through the town, taking out enemies (who don’t drop anything useful and respawn when you return, making backtracking a chore), and finding stairs down to underground passages, ant hills, castles, and through the Black Ship Gang’s ship. Exploration generally amounts to finding chests that contain a life or weapon power-up, extra shurikens, and coins to spend, but you’ll occasionally find shops and inns in here too and you’ll pretty much always be tasked with finding an NPC with a story-specific item (bamboo, a bomb, the symbol of the Black Ship Gang) that you need to progress further. Graphically, the game really isn’t anything to shout about; considering we were seven years into the Game Boy’s life span by this point and we’d seen an incredibly detailed and layered adventure game in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Nintendo EAD, 1993) about four years prior, it’s hard to not judge Mystical Ninja, which more resembles Super Mario Land(Nintendo R&D1, 1989) than Link’s Awakening. The sound is pretty good, but the sprites are small, lacking in detail, and the environments all become very samey very quickly. Add in the fact that some locations are veritable mazes and include hazards like pits, water, and lava that take a whole chunk off your health and send you back to the beginning and you have a game that just looks dated and lacks all of the visual charm I associate with the Mystical Ninja franchise. By taking advantage of the 3DS’s save state system, you don’t really need to explore all that much as you can just reload if you make a mistake, but that won’t help you when you come across the various mini games that accompany the game’s bosses!
My Progression: Mystical Ninja’s enemies aren’t really all the difficult to get past; you’ve got samurais, ghosts, giant ants, bats, and pirates scattered throughout but also some trickier enemies, like teleporting ninjas, ink-spitting squids, and these weird…I dunno…golems? Walking tree-things? Most enemies can be defeated in one hit, but some take more, and it can be tricky lining up your shot or blow because of the game’s rigid grid system and the character’s weapons not having a wide arc like Link’s sword. The hardest thing about the enemies, though, is that they all respawn when you return to where they were meaning that it’s usually easier and faster to just jump around and avoid them, especially as you don’t get any health or coins or anything for beating them. Some areas include mini bosses, like a sumo, a flying queen ant, a hook-handed pirate captain, and a large octopus, but most of these are pretty easy to pummel into defeat from afar. When you explore Skeleton Island, defeating the club-wielding ogre-things opens up a new part of the area to explore and brings you one step closer to the final boss, but it’s actually highly unlikely you’ll even get past the first boss without using the password system. My playthrough was going pretty well; I was disappointed by the graphics, lack of power-ups, and the inability to switch characters on the fly, but the game wasn’t too much of a challenge to figure out. I beat the sumo, got the bamboo, and used it to cross the water to a castle, where I eventually reached this rocket boss…thing.
It was a little sporadic but I managed to defeat it but Baron Skull, leader of the Black Ship Gang, challenges you to a 100-meter race afterwards that is, frankly, impossible. You need to tap A as fast as possible to beat him but, no matter how fast I was, I couldn’t even get close so, technically, my run ended there. I used the password to jump to the next chapter, though, to see what else was on offer; here, you battle this big stone boss in a cave that constantly throws boulders and its extending arms at you and, when you beat it, you have another impossible tapping game to complete, this time a tug of war! I couldn’t beat that either, so I jumped to chapter three; here, you need to answer five out of ten questions right in a timed quiz to board the Black Ship Gang’s ship, which isn’t too hard, and the big octopus has you quickly select which lantern doesn’t match to finish the chapter, so I was actually able to beat this one! Things properly broke down in chapter four, where you cross a bridge to another ship and are challenged to a number of mini games; the first isn’t too bad (especially with save states) and simply has you matching pairs of cards, but the second was, again, impossible as no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get all of the images to match the main picture. I skipped ahead to the final chapter, where you easily defeat Baron Skull’s ogres and rescue Yae, then hop over some lava and battle him to the finish in a first-person mech fight. This sees you summoning the giant robot Impact (though you only see him from inside his cockpit) and punching Baron Skull when he pops up, following the helpful arrows to prepare your attack. Unfortunately, you can’t block or fire projectiles and I couldn’t even see what or when Baron Skull was firing at me, and this is a multi-stage fight, with Baron Skull getting faster and harder to hit, so this was where I officially gave up.
To say I was disappointed by Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon would be a massive understatement. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting it to be anything like the Nintendo 64 game of the same name that’d so massively captured my attention and imagination, but something more akin to the SNES game or even more in line with Link’s Awakening would’ve been fine. I was expecting the game to be hard because it was a long and involved role-playing adventure game that had you going from town to town, exploring dungeons and castles, and acquiring new weapons and items…not because of nigh-impossible button mashing mini games with absolutely no margin for error! The game is stupidly simple 99% of the time, coming across as a kiddified version of the original Legend of Zelda and barely presenting much of a challenge as long as you remember where you’ve gone in the maze-like areas. The bosses are pretty simple to beat as well, but those mini games, while quirky and in keeping with the series’ bizarre sense of humour, are such a brick wall that I honestly have no idea how you’d get past even the first one! Add to that the dated the graphics, the lack of variety between the playable characters, and the disappointingly bland locations and you are basically left with a forgettable Game Boy experience that I can’t say I’ll be motivated to try and finish any time soon. But maybe you think I’m being too harsh? Maybe you’ve beaten this game without issue? If so, I’d love to hear about it, and your thoughts on the Ganbare Goemon series, down in the comments or on my social media.
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 Kongknock-off and to say: Happy birthday, Donkey Kong!
Released: 24 May 2013 Originally Released: 21 November 2010 Developer: Monster Games Original Developer: Retro Studios Also Available For: Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, and Nvidia Shield (Original Version)
The Background: After establishing a foothold in the United States with Donkey Kong (Nintendo R&D1, 1981), which was a financial and critical success, Nintendo quickly went on to capture the home console market with the Nintendo Entertainment System. While their moustachioed mascot, Super Mario, was at the forefront of this, Donkey Kong wasn’t completely forgotten as the character continued to be featured in sequels and spin-offs during the NES’s life. However, legendary British developers Rare breathed new life into the cantankerous ape with the Donkey Kong Country series (Rare, 1994 to 1996), a series of sidescrolling platformers released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) that expanded upon Donkey Kong’s cast of characters and pushed the SNES hardware to its limits with their revolutionary pre-rendered graphics. After years of being relegated to guest appearances and spin-offs, Donkey and Diddy Kong returned to prominence at the specific request of DK’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, with Retro Studios brought in to create a nostalgic throwback title for the Nintendo Wii. Donkey Kong Country Returns was met with generally favourable reviews and sold nearly five million copies by the end of March 2011. This, potentially, led to Nintendo commissioning a revamp of the title for their new 3DS console, which included additional game modes and levels alongside the 3D feature, and saw equally strong reviews and sales.
The Plot: The evil Tiki Tak Tribe emerge from an erupting volcano and immediately set about hypnotising the inhabitants of Donkey Kong Island to steal Donkey Kong’s beloved bananas. Enraged at the loss of his coveted banana hoard, DK once again teams up with Diddy Kong to travel across the length and breadth of the island to retrieve his bananas and defeat the Tiki Tak Tribe’s leaders.
Gameplay: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a 2.5D action/platformer in which players take control of the titular ape Donkey Kong and travel across nine worlds to collect his beloved bananas and defeat the Tiki Tak Tribe. As with all Nintendo 3DS titles, players have the option of adjusting the game’s 3D effects, which pop out at players during certain situations and provide a great deal of depth to the game’s vibrant stages but, also as with all 3DS games, I chose to keep the 3D option turned down because I find it distracting. Fans of the original Donkey Kong Country might be disappointed to discover that they can only play as Donkey Kong this time around; rather than using a tag team mechanic and switching between Donkey and Diddy Kong at any time to make use of their unique abilities, players are stuck as Donkey Kong and Diddy is relegated to merely a supporting role, buffing your health and forward roll and providing a very limited hover boost with his jetpack. The only way you can play as Diddy (who is apparently faster and can stun enemies with his Popcorn Gun) is if you happen to have a friend to play with in two player mode; otherwise, you’re stuck with Donkey Kong.
Donkey Kong is a bit of a lumbering beast; as he moves, he gains momentum which allows him to go faster and jump higher (he also jumps higher the longer you press the A or B button) but he’s also quite large and cumbersome, which not only makes his hit box quite big but also means it can be pretty difficult to pull off the tight platforming and jumps the game requires. DK can attack enemies by rolling into a ball with L or R when running, pounding the ground or other objects when standing still with L or R, and grabbing and throwing barrels with Y or X. By pressing down and L or R, he’ll also blow out a puff of air which can be used to blow out fires, flaming enemies, or stir up parts of the environment to find secrets and you’ll also be asked to mash L and R at certain points in mini quick-time events to earn extra rewards. Your main aim in every stage is to travel from the left side of the screen to the right and reach the Slot Machine Barrel that awaits you at the end of each stage. This is easier said than done, however; Donkey Kong is tasked with pulling off some tricky jumps and platforming in order to clear each stage and you’ll have to search high and low, passing through hidden areas and smashing through blocks, to uncover every collectible, often at the risk (or cost) of a life. Each stage except for at least one contains a couple of checkpoints, where you’ll respawn after dying. If you die while partnered with Diddy, you’ll respawn without him; however, while you’ll also have to reacquire any KONG letters you collected before you died, your total banana and Banana Coin count carries over and both of these can also be collected again so you can stock up on each and replenish your lives a little faster.
You’ll definitely need to take advantage of this as the game is very demanding and incredibly frustrating at times, requiring you to bounce off enemies, swing from vines, and cling to ceilings, walls, and rotating platforms in order to progress. Two of Donkey Kong Country’s principal gameplay mechanics also make a return here: Barrel blasting and mine carts. You’ll find two types of barrel cannons in the game, one which launches you when you choose and one which launches you automatically. While barrels often blast you into the background and towards secret areas, they’re just as likely to be moving, requiring you to time your shot to reach other stationary or moving barrels, which becomes harder and harder as you’re faced with collapsing platforms, pillars, and other obstacles that will cause instant death. The mine carts are even worse, though; these will race ahead uncontrollably and unceasingly, requiring split second jumps on your behalf to reach collectibles, clear gaps and obstacles, or reach vines and grassy verges. These sections become incredibly frustrating and unfair when you’re required to jump at precisely the right moment with the exact amount of control and timing to avoid instant death spikes, duck under low ceilings, or hop over enemies; hit anything in these stages and it’s instant death, regardless of how much health you have, which I find to be incredibly unreasonable considering Diddy can boost your maximum health up six hearts.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’re also required to jump on to a Rocket Barrel for similarly frustrating and difficult chase sequences that see you flying horizontally (and, eventually, vertically) through a stage while stalactites and rocks fall from above, obstacles rise from below, and enemies and projectiles fly at you. While you have more control over the Rocket Barrel compared to the mine cart, it’s extremely imprecise and slippery; you must tap or hold A to maintain just the right amount of height, which can be extremely difficult when you’re forced to pass through narrow, often collapsing and winding, passageways, and it’s far too easy to lose a life because your hit box is so big and enemy explosions tend to linger onscreen just long enough to knock you from your precarious perch. It’s no wonder the game constantly encourages you to take a break with sections such as these, which only exacerbate the abundance of temporary platforms, bottomless pits, and instant death traps that fill every single stage of the game.
Graphics and Sound: If there’s one area that Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D excels, its in its presentation; a far cry from the digitised graphics of its original incarnation, the game is a colourful, vivid 2.5D adventure that pops out even without the 3D effect. Donkey and Diddy Kong are pretty big and lively protagonists full of little quirks and characteristics, if a bit stilted at times, and their enemies are quite varied and zany. The game’s worlds and stages are pretty varied but nothing that hasn’t really been seen before in previous and similar titles: you’ll swing through a jungle, blast across a beach, smash your way through some ancient ruins, race through a crumbling cave, clamber through a forest, avoid the murky mud of the bone yard that is the cliff, barrel through a factory, and dodge rising lava inside of an active volcano.
The game is pretty good, whoever, at mixing and matching gameplay mechanics from each world into another; so, you might have to dodge past collapsing pillars in the jungle but you’ll also find collapsible hazards in the cliff stage. Similarly, mine carts and Rocket Barrels appear invariably throughout each world and you’ll be asked to swing from vines and cling to grassy verges across the entire game. While each world has a unique theme and varies up the gameplay quite a bit, the emphasis is always on platforming and various methods of jumping and traversing the environment. This means that you won’t find any underwater stages in Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, which would be a good thing but it results in water being an instant death hazard and replaces such mechanics with tiny, crumbling platforms, chase sequences, high speed jaunts on runaway mine carts or rocket-powered barrels, and precarious jumps over bottomless pits, beds of spikes, or bubbling lava as you hop from one tiny platform to another or ride a slowly deteriorating egg shell across a dangerous landscape. Other times, you’ll rush down water slides or have to outrun a giant Squeekly or stages are rendered entirely in silhouette or filled with a thick fog that limits your field of view and helps to mix up the presentation, though these instances were few and far between in hindsight.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D tells its incredibly simple story through the employment of pantomime-like cutscenes that are beautifully brought to life through some sadly underused high quality cinematics. When entering a stage or approaching a boss, the in-game graphics take over to show the Kongs encountering the next leader of the Tiki Tak Tribe and each of these can be skipped at any time, which is useful. When you visit Cranky Kong’s shop, the wizened Kong will offer tips and instructions on his wares through the use of speech bubbles and the game also features numerous remixes of classic Donkey Kong Country tunes, such as “DK Island Swing”, which help lend a sense of legitimacy to the title as a continuation of those 16-bit games.
Enemies and Bosses: Being that the Kongs are going up against an entirely new antagonist force this time around, they are fittingly faced with a slew of new enemies that replace the Kremlings of the classic games with such bizarre foes as sentient bongo-bongo drums that also resemble owls or are engulfed in flames that they toss your way. You’ll also have to hop or, or roll into, crab-like Snaps and Pinchly, Frogoons, bat-like Squeeklys, the parrot-like Awk and Rawk, and the voracious Toothberrys. When in the mines, you’ll have to contend with a variety of moles (who race at you in mine carts of their own or toss bombs your way), jump over massive sharks that leap out of the water in the ruins, avoid being splattered by indestructible octopus tentacles, and bop on the heads of a number of skeletal or wacky robotic enemies when exploring the quagmire of the cliff stage or the mechanical mayhem of the factory, respectively.
Of course, eight worlds means eight different bosses to face; before you tackle each one, you’ll get to smash open a DK Barrel and I highly recommend that you take advantage of this as Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D’s boss battles can be quite laborious. The first boss you face, Mugly, is a giant toad-like creature that likes to charge or jump at you from one side of the arena to the other, producing shockwaves in the process. He also protects himself from attack with a row of spikes on his back, meaning your window of opportunity to jump on his back is limited to when the spikes are retracted or the times when he knocks him self silly. The second boss, the Scurvy Crew, is comprised of three crabs that you must jump on when their claws are down or roll into when they’re up. Though they also form a three-tiered totem, you’ll continue using this tactic but they move much faster as the fight progresses and it just seems never-ending at times, which can lead to you making stupid mistakes.
To clear the ruins stage, you’ll have to battle Stu (no relation…), a massive, cracked out bird that protects itself with a cauldron. Stu alternates between trying to dive bomb you and tossing bombs into the arena, which you must grab and throw back at him while watching out for the shockwaves caused when he drops a big missile into the arena and the fire that spreads from his incendiary bombs. The big boss of the cave stage is Mole Miner Max but, to reach him, you must first survive his gruelling mole train, jumping over or ducking under axe projectiles (without moving forward or backwards or else you’ll die because of the train’s momentum and physics), and tossing bombs away before they can hurt you. Max himself isn’t too difficult (it’s reaching him that’s the tricky part!) as you can pre-empt where he will appear to bop him on the head, just be sure to avoid standing on the mine carts when they sparkle or else you’ll be thrown to your death!
One of the more frustrating boss battles is against the Mangoruby; this boss requires a far less direct approach as you must cling to the circular platforms dotted around the arena and pound the five triangular switches on each one to get past the Mangoruby’s electrical field. You must then frantically chase it down (preferably without falling to your death) and jump on its back (not its horned head) before the switches reactivate and while avoiding the bombs it eventually drops into the arena. Afterwards, you’ll battle Thugly, who is very similar to Mugly and charges and jumps at you. This time, you need to jump over him at the last possible second and then quickly roll under his jump attack, avoiding the shockwaves he produces upon landing while also dodging rocks that rain down from above, his flame breath, and his fireball projectiles. Thugly gets faster and more aggressive as the battle progresses down the arena and can only be damaged when his protective plates slide back (but, again, watch out as these also glow red hot!)
Before you can even reach the Stompybot 3000 (and the final boss), you first have to beat a Rocket Barrel section, which requires split second timing on your behalf to avoid the obstacles and moving hazards that appear just off-screen for maximum annoyance. The Stompybot 3000 is another of the game’s more frustrating bosses because of how random it is; you need to stay away from it as it clomps around the arena and roll under it when it leaps into the air (but only when the little flap opens up, otherwise you’ll get hurt), then cling to the bottom of it to deal some damage. Once its legs are broken off, it’ll start dropping BuckBots into the arena that you can attack to try and get some health back. You’ll have to grab on to the green chains to deal further damage to the machine, though, which will also spit flames into the arena if you take too long and try to crush you if you hold on for too long.
Easily the toughest boss of the game, though, is the final boss, Tiki Tong; as mentioned, you must endure a gruelling Rocket Barrel section to even reach this boss, which will most likely leave you with few lives or exhaust your inventory so you lose the much needed edge of Cranky’s items in the battle. Additionally, if you die while fighting Tiki Tong, you respawn right before the final fight but without Diddy, making it even tougher! Tiki Tong first tries to slap and crush you with its hands, which must be ducked under, rolled away from, or jumped over (when they’re at the far side of the arena) to avoid damage. When you dodge its downward slam, quickly jump on the jewel to damage and, eventually, destroy each hand (grabbing any wayward hearts you see in the process) and Tiki Tong will start attacking with its big, stupid head by spitting out Flaming Tiki Buzzes that will home in on you and basically blanket the arena, giving you the smallest window to avoid being hurt (the rare hearts that appear during this time are also on fire and you have very little time to wait or blow them out). Tiki Tong also crashes to the ground, producing a shockwave that you must jump over in a desperate attempt to bop the big red button on its head; miss-time your jump, though, and you’ll simply bounce harmlessly off the button for maximum frustration and the boss also increases in speed and aggressiveness as the fight drags on, giving you less and less time to hit that weak spot and crush it with the Moon when you finally do defeat it.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: As you explore each of the game’s stages, you’ll find a multitude of collectibles that will aid your quest: hearts will restore one unit of your health, red balloons will award you with an extra life, and DK Barrels will see Diddy join your side. Of course, you’ll also find a number of bananas in each stage; collect one hundred of these and you’ll also be awarded with an extra life but you can also find Banana Coins to spend in Cranky Kong’s shop, Puzzle Pieces to unlock artwork in the game’s Gallery, and KONG letters that must be collected in every stage to unlock a hidden temple for each of the game’s worlds. It pays to explore and experiment with your surrounds, too, as you can find more bananas and Banana Coins by blowing flowers or windmills or by smashing blocks and chests. KONG letters, deposits of bananas and Banana Coins, and Puzzle Pieces can often be found hidden behind parts of the environment, too, as can hidden bonus stages that see you hopping across moving platforms or using barrels to collect everything in the enclosed arena within a time limit to earn extra lives and Puzzle Pieces.
The Banana Coins you find can be spent in Cranky’s Shop; the elderly Kong has a range of items for sale that can be added to your inventory before the start of each stage. You can equip up to three different items at a time (though some are locked out of certain stages) and these can be incredibly useful, especially in the game’s more frustrating sections. You can purchase an extra heart piece, make yourself temporarily invincible (which actually gives you three extra hit points), spawn in a DK Barrel, and/or protect your mine cart or Rocket Barrel from one hit. You can also purchase green balloons, which will save you when you fall down bottomless pits, hire out Squawks the Parrot to alert you to nearby secrets, or buy a Map Key to unlock an extra stage in each world that can provide a shortcut to the boss. Since the game lacks any underwater sections, the only one of DK’s animal friends to make a return is Rambi, who can charge through special blocks, beds of spikes, and through enemies without fear. You can mount and dismount Rambi at any time and even use Diddy’s jetpack boost to help you plough through stages but he does make the already finicky platforming sections even more troublesome. If you die repeatedly in a stage, you’ll also be given the option (from your last checkpoint), to activate “Super Kong”; in this mode, a white version of Donkey and Diddy Kong will play through the stage or tackle the boss on your behalf. While this allows you to clear any areas that are causing you to rage quit and progress to new stages and worlds, you won’t get to keep any of the collectibles Super Kong picks up and the level won’t appear as completed on the main map screen so you’ll always know that the game bested you.
Additional Features: Being an expanded version of Donkey Kong County Returns, Donkey Kong County Returns 3D contains everything that was available in the original Wii game plus a few extras. You’re given three save slots to play around with and are asked to pick between two game modes right from the start: “Original”, which plays exactly the same as the Wii version, and “New”, which grants players an additional heart, reduces the cost of items in Cranky’s shop, and allows you to purchase (for the low, low price of fifty Banana Coins each) eight Rare Orbs to enter the Golden Temple rather than forcing you to collect every KONG letter to access this stage. The Golden Temple transports players to the new world, Cloud, where you can take on eight additional stages, each one modelled after the game’s existing levels, before tackling the ninth and final stage, which is, without question, the game’s toughest and most frustrating challenge yet.
This stage takes place high in the clouds and, thus, entirely over a bottomless pit and sees you hopping from precarious fruit-based platforms without the aid of any checkpoints. Green balloons and Diddy Kong are a must to clear this stage, which had me tearing my hair out on more than one occasion thanks to DK’s lumbering jump, awkward controls, and the minuscule or slippery platforms that comprise the arena. Clear this final stage, though, and you’ll unlock the delights of the game’s Mirror Mode. However, only a madman would put themselves through the demanding torture of tackling every single stage all over again…but in reverse and with only one heart and no help from Diddy or Cranky’s items. You can also tackle a time attack after clearing each stage and are pushed to find every single KONG letter and Puzzle Piece to not only unlock all the artwork in the Gallery but also achieve 200% completion (because, yes, you need to find everything in Mirror Mode, too) but, if you can do all that, then you’re much more skilled and patient than I am as I tapped out after clearing the Cloud world.
The Summary: I had high hopes for Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D; being a SEGA kid growing up, I’ve only had partial exposure to a lot of Nintendo’s best titles from the 8- and 16-bit era but I’ve always had a fondness for Donkey Kong Country and tried on numerous occasions to give at least the first game a full playthrough. There’s no denying that Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D looks and sounds fantastic; the 3D is implemented quite well and the game is very vibrant and full of quirky, cartoony appeal that is decidedly at odds with the game’s absolutely horrendous difficulty curve. Donkey Kong is just so slow, clunky, and clumsy; when forced to outrun instant death traps or jump to small, temporary platforms, he struggles to get his big ass in gear and you’ll be fighting with the game’s awkward, slippery controls and frame-perfect demands as often as the split second timing and trial and error of the gameplay. Not being able to freely switch to Diddy was a massive disappointment as it takes away a lot of the appeal of the game for us single players and, ultimately, despite some fun visuals and moments sprinkled throughout, I found the game to be more of a chore to get through than anything that simply required me to throw myself at its toughest sections over and over to barely squeeze past rather than actually enjoying the whole experience.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
What did you think to Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D? If you played the original, how do you think this enhanced/portable version holds up? Did you also struggle with the game’s finicky controls and demanding difficulty or were you able to overcome the challenge without much trouble? Were you disappointed that the tag team mechanic and other recognisable elements of Donkey Kong Country were dropped? Which of the Donkey Kong Country games is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating Donkey Kong’s anniversary this year? Whatever your thoughts on Donkey Kong, sign up to leave them below or share them on my social media.
Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I will be dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.
Released: 13 June 2013 Originally Released: 25 October 1991 Developer: SEGA Original Developer: Ancient Also Available For: GameCube, Game Gear, Master System, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox
The Background: I did a deep dive into Sonic’s complex and deliberate history in my review of his incredibly popular debut title for the Mega Drive; however, in October of the same year of Sonic’s 16-bit debut, SEGA also released an 8-bit version of the influential Mario-beater. The Master System version of Sonic was my introduction to the character as it came built-into my Master System II console; originally developed by Ancient specifically for the Game Gear, the Yuzo Koshiiro-lead team were also commissioned to make a version for its bigger brother. Since it was impossible to port the 16-bit game, Ancient started from scratch to craft a similar but fundamentally altered version of its 16-bit counterpart. Reviews were positive and, when the game was subsequently re-released onto the 3DS Virtual Console, it was again positively received and has been considered one of the best titles on SEGA’s 8-bit systems.
The Plot: South Island is under siege! The maniacal Doctor Eggman (widely known as “Robotnik” during this time) has captured the island’s animals and polluted the landscape in his search for the six legendary Chaos Emeralds and only one super-fast, super-cool hedgehog can stop him!
Gameplay: Just like the 16-bit version, Sonic the Hedgehog is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which players are placed into the red-and-white trainers of the titular blue hedgehog. Sonic is tasked with racing and navigating through six stages (known as “Zones”), with three levels (called “Acts”) each and, in each Zone’s third Act, Sonic will encounter Dr. Eggman and have to battle him to free a bunch of woodland critters from captivity.
Sonic’s repertoire is exactly the same as in the game’s 16-bit cousin; moving Sonic in a direction for long enough will see him break from a walk, to a trot, to a super-fast run that turns his legs into a blur of motion. By pressing any button, Sonic will jump and become a ball of whirling blue spikes; this “Super Sonic Spin Attack” is your sole form of attack and can also be performed by pressing down on the directional-pad (D-Pad) while running to smash into Badniks. Pressing up and down on the D-Pad while standing still will allow you to vertically scroll the screen and pressing down when on a steep slope and jumping at the very end will see Sonic fly through the air and travel far across the Act at times. Otherwise, that’s it; there’s no Spin Dash or anything like that. Consequently, the game remains a much slower experience than the advertising would have you believe. Thanks to the limitations of the 8-bit hardware, this version of Sonic is missing the iconic loop-de-loops that helped Sonic gain speed in the 16-bit version and replaces them (here and there) with the aforementioned ramps and a far more vertically-orientated approach. This means that the game is, at its core, a pure platformer and you’ll be jumping over (many) spiked and bottomless pits, hopping to platforms (moving, stationary, and temporary), and making your way up and across to reach the Goal Sign.
While Sonic can still collect Golden Rings to protect himself from harm and death, he is again hampered by the system’s limitations. When hit, Sonic will appear to lose only one Ring but will actually drop all of his Rings and cannot pick them up again, which can easily lead to you getting killed on the very next hit. There are additional limitations on the heads-up display (HUD): if you collect over ninety-nine Rings, you’ll earn an extra life but also reset the Ring counter. Your life display is also capped at nine during gameplay but you can collect extra lives and they do show up on the score tally screen. Speaking of which, yes, you do accumulate points by smashing Badniks and finishing Acts quickly but you only see this score at the end of an Act. You are also still racing against a time limit but the game’s Acts are, for the most part, much shorter than in the 16-bit version so it’s not really much of a factor. Additionally, rather than including Signposts as checkpoints, 8-bit Sonic uses Arrow Monitors, which are worth hunting down if things are getting tough and, even better, your shield will carry across between Acts this time around.
As far as gameplay goes, though, 8-bit Sonic certainly mixes things up in many ways that separate it from 16-bit Sonic. Acts have different mechanics in them, such as warning signs before death pits, weight-based springboards, rapids, rolling logs to run on, and teleporters. It also includes three game-exclusive Zones: Bridge, Jungle, and Sky Base. Bridge focuses on horizontal platforming across an instant-death body of water and has you running across collapsing bridges while Jungle is focused more on vertical platforming. Both Zones include an autoscrolling section in Act 2, with Bridge Zone forcing you to the right and Jungle Zone forcing you up, which can be a pain as once the screen scrolls up to meet you, falling down will result in instant death. You once again have to find your way through Labyrinth Zone, now much more of a chore to play as it’s not only a fittingly maze-like Zone but the game noticeably slows right down whenever Sonic is in water or too much is happening onscreen. Scrap Brain, while similar to the 16-bit game, is also made noticeably different by the presence of a confusing teleporter loop in the second Act that sees you hitting switches to open certain doors, dodging numerous hazards, and going through the right tunnels and teleporters to reach the end. By the time you reach the game’s final Zone, Sky Base, the difficulty noticeably ramps up a bit; Act 1 is alive with hazards thanks to an impressive thunderstorm raging in the background and sending electrical currents running across the screen and the presence of numerous cannons. Act 2 takes place up in the sky with you suspended over a perpetual death pit and forcing you to hop across propeller platforms and dodge even bigger cannons all without the benefit of your precious Rings.
Graphics and Sound: Even now, Sonic the Hedgehog remains one of the most impressive titles on SEGA’s 8-bit systems. Since the 3DS version is a port of the Game Gear version, it’s not quite the same as I remember it; Sonic’s sprite is noticeably different compared to the Master System one and actually resembles Greg Martin’s artwork thanks to his frowning eye. When left idle, he still taps his foot impatiently and pulls off some amusing expressions when killed, skidding, or gobbling air bubbles in Labyrinth Zone, though obviously the game’s zones aren’t going to be as vibrant and detailed as in the 16-bit version. Indeed, you’ll notice right away that the backgrounds are quite sparse and lack the same depth and level of detail as on the Mega Drive but there’s still quite a lot going on in each Zone; flowers blossom and dance in Green Hill Zone, water rushes by beneath Bridge Zone, and waterfalls and vines are all over the place in Jungle Zone.
Labyrinth Zone also still has a lot of detail on the foreground elements and you still need to swallow air bubbles to breathe (though the iconic drowning music has been replaced by a simple ticking countdown); while Scrap Brain Zone remains a mechanical Hell, Sky Base is probably the most visually impressive Zone in the game thanks to its dark, foreboding first Act and the impressive scale of the second Act. One of the best additions to the game is the presence of a map before each Act; this shows your progression through South Island, displays the name of the Zone you’re about to play, and even shows Dr. Eggman hovering in to attack you, the level of pollution in the air, and Dr. Eggman’s Sky Base looming overhead. The game even has a much more elaborate introduction before the title screen and the music is even more impressive; again, largely different from the 16-bit version with the exception of the opening jingle and Green Hill Zone, the game is full of jaunty, catchy little chip tunes, with Bridge Zone, the game’s incredible Scrap Brain Zone track, and Sky Base Zone’s tracks being notable standouts for me. When you finish the game, you’ll also be treated to a large, partially-animated sprite of Sonic with a microphone while one of my favourite ending medleys plays over the credits.
Enemies and Bosses: Even though 8-bit Sonic includes some new Zones, the Badniks remain exactly the same as in the 16-bit version; you’ll still bop on Motobugs, get blasted at by Buzz Bombers, surprised by Newtrons, and nipped at by Chompers. Some Badniks, like Bat Brain and Roller, are missing, however, and you won’t be seeing any fluffy little creatures hopping to freedom when you smash the ‘bots with your Spin Attack. Your main hazards will be the high abundance of spike pits, spike traps, and bottomless pits; spears will also try to skewer you in Labyrinth Zone, flame jets and electrical hazards try to fry you in Scrap Brain Zone, and platforms will constantly collapse beneath your feet.
As in the 16-bit version, Sonic will battle Dr. Eggman in Act 3 of each Zone. Unlike in that game, Act 3 contains no Rings, some platforming hazards to navigate through, and a single extra life monitor hidden within it to help you out. Every boss in the game is also completely different from those seen in the Mega Drive version; in Green Hill Zone, Dr. Eggman simply flies overhead a few times (accompanied by a jaunty little boss theme), lowers slowly to the ground, and tries to ram into you but, thanks to the smaller screen size of the Game Gear, it’s pathetically easy to do him in as he flies overheard on the first pass. In Bridge Zone, Dr. Eggman switches to a submersible craft and pops up randomly between bridges to fire three shots at you; this actually differs from the Master System version, which sees you battling Dr. Eggman between two grassy platforms, and can be difficult as it’s very easy to fall through Dr. Eggman on his invincibility frames and lose a life. In Jungle Zone, Dr. Eggman again hovers overheard but this time you’re limited to a curved vine platform and he drops a rolling bomb at you but, just like in Green Hill Zone, it’s way too easy to just mess him up on his first pass.
Things appear to get more troublesome in Labyrinth Zone; unlike in the 16-bit version, you actually do fight Dr. Eggman here but it’s underwater and in a small arena with a bottomless pit to worry about. While there’s helpfully (if strangely) no danger of you drowning in this battle, you do have to watch out for Dr. Eggman’s rockets and projectiles but, while it can be tricky to jump over the pit thanks to how slow the game runs underwater, this isn’t that much of a chore to get through. In Scrap Brain Zone, you won’t actually fight Dr. Eggman; instead, you have to solve a tricky puzzle and then chase him to his teleporter and you’ll go one-on-one with him in the next Zone in a battle far more grandiose than on the Mega Drive. In Sky Base Act 3, Dr. Eggman hides within a glass tube and hops on a switch, which sends jets of flame randomly up from the floor or a ball of death to fly at you. Thankfully, it’s pretty simple to hop over both of these and bash into him. After he flees, a short cutscene pays that shows Sonic delivering the final blow via teleporter, defeating Dr. Eggman at last.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: Sonic the Hedgehog includes all of the same power-ups as its Mega Drive cousin. You’ll find a number of monitors scattered throughout each Zone that will award you with ten extra Rings, a protective shield, or mark your progress so you can respawn later in the Zone if you die. Interestingly, the game features far more extra life monitors than it does speed-up shoes or invincibility monitors; indeed, I only encountered maybe two of these in my playthrough, to the point where I thought they weren’t even in the game.
Additional Features: The 3DS version of 8-bit Sonic is one of the best ways to play the game thanks to not only being a portable title like the original Game Gear version, but also the inclusion of save states. While you can only create one save slot, this does make it dramatically easier to keep track of your progress and help you hunt down the game’s six Chaos Emeralds.
One of the things I always loved about 8-bit Sonic was its approach to Chaos Emeralds; if you finish an Act with fifty Rings or more, you’ll get to play a Special Stage. In this game, these are timed bonus stages full of bumpers and springs (basically functioning as the game’s version of Spring Yard Zone) and Rings. Here, you can bounce all over the place to stock up on lives or break Continue Monitors to gain an extra continue but you won’t find Chaos Emeralds in these stages. Instead, Chaos Emeralds are hidden within the game’s Zones. Finding them is sometimes pretty simple, such as just taking a certain path while underground in Green Hill or running on a log at the bottom of Jungle Zone, but can also be sneakily hidden behind death traps. To reach the Emerald in Bridge Zone, for example, you have to jump from a falling section of a bridge before you fall to your death and Scrap Brain’s Chaos Emerald is reached by falling down a specific pit that looks just like any other bottomless pit. Nabbing them all rewards you with a hefty score bonus and the game’s true ending, which sees South Island freed of Dr. Eggman’s influence.
The Summary: Even though I grew up playing the Master System version of this game, which is graphically slightly superior, I still have an immense amount of nostalgia and fondness for the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog. The game is bright, fun, and endlessly charming and packs quite a lot in for an 8-bit title; one of the things I still really enjoy about it is that it’s not just a scaled down version of the 16-bit game. Instead, 8-bit Sonic features new Zones, new gimmicks, and changes up the way the game is played; having you hunt for Chaos Emeralds in the game’s Acts is a great way to tie into the game’s larger focus on platforming and exploration and I always kind of saw this and the 16-bit version as two parts of a greater whole that complimented each other beautifully. Colourful and featuring some extremely catchy tunes, 8-bit Sonic is both easier and slightly harder than its more popular counterpart; there are some glitches here and there (Sonic’s collision detection is a bit wonky and I found myself bounced into oblivion in the Special Stages more than once), there seems to be far more unfair death pits and traps, and the game runs much slower, especially when there’s a lot happening onscreen. Still, these issues are minor and, in many ways (again, most likely because of nostalgia) I actually prefer this game to the 16-bit version but, in my wholly biased opinion, it’s definitely at least on par with Sonic’s bigger, better Mega Drive outing.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
What did you think about Sonic’s 8-bit debut? How do you think it compares to the 16-bit version and Sonic’s other 8-bit outings? Did your Master System come with Sonic built-in or did you buy it separately? What did you think to the Chaos Emeralds being hidden in the game’s Zones rather than in Special Stages? Did you own the original Game Gear version and what did you think to this 3DS port? How are you celebrating Sonic’s birthday this year? Whatever you think, feel free to share your thoughts and memories regarding Sonic below or on my social media.
So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regardedas 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 have been celebrating everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber every Thursday of this month in a little event I call “Mario Month”.
Story Title: “Super Mario Bros. Adventures” and “Mario vs. Wario” Published: 25 October 2016 Originally Published: 1 January 1992 to 31 January 1993 Writer: Kentaro Takekuma Artist: Charlie Nozawa
The Background: By the early 1990s, Nintendo’s mushroom-stomping mascot was well-established as an icon not just in the videogame industry but in mainstream pop cultureas well; with over sixty videogames to his name, and with Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo EAD, 1993) proving a blockbuster release for Nintendo (and a pivotal title in the on-going “Console Wars” of the time), merchandising and licensing opportunities naturally began to increase as Nintendo sought to capitalise on the portly plumber’s popularity. In July/August of 1988, Nintendo of America began publishing a monthly review and strategy magazine, Nintendo Power(1988 to 2012), which soon included comic book and mangaadaptations of its most popular videogame titles and, naturally, Super Mario was one such character who found his adventures chronicled in the magazine.
The Review: Super Mario Adventures starts with a cute little musical introduction to the titular plumber duo, who operate as the Mushroom Kingdom’s “plumbers extraordinaire” and claim that “there’s no pipe [they] can’t repair!” The plumber brothers have been called to an emergency situation at Princess Toadstool’s castle: the pipes are a leaking, broken mess and need to be fixed for the Princess’s big party that night. Although Luigi (affectionately called “Weege” by Mario) is suffering from hunger pains, Mario enthusiastically takes to the job and encourages him to get stuck in and fix up the castle’s pipes.
However, his eagerness is cut short when a series of larger green pipes suddenly start sprouting up through the ground and a hoard of Koopas, Goombas, and other nasties pop out and attack the castle. Although Mario fights off the invaders, his efforts are brought to a halt when Bowser, the King of the Koopas himself, arrives in his Koopa Copter and alongside his Koopalings to lay claim to the entire kingdom through his superior forces and his proposal to marry the princess to make his takeover official. When the princess adamantly refuses his offer, Bowser uses his magic wand to turn her loyal Toads (and, amusingly, their distraught cries) to stone. Although Mario is also caught in the blast, leaving Luigi hysterical, the princess refuses to bow to Bowser’s demands and leads a group of Toads into battle against him. The Toads take the petrified Mario to the Minister of Massage, an aged oriental Toad who cures him of his ailment and, determined to get his revenge against Bowser and rescue the princess, Mario boldly charges after the two and he and Luigi end up being dropped right onto Dinosaur Island.
There, they meet Yoshi, a friendly green dinosaur who helps them out when they’re attacked by a giant Wiggler and then speeds them off to Yoshi Village and they’re introduced to Friendly Floyd, a travelling salesman who randomly lives in the otherwise Yoshi-centric population. Floyd tells them that Bowser has been kidnapping Yoshis and punishing anyone who gets in his way and then scams them out of ten Coins by selling them a book to help them communicate with Yoshi that turns out to be basically useless. Mario’s anger at Floyd is quickly shifted back onto his main objective, though, when the princess’s Guard stumbles, bruised and hurt, into town and informs them that the princess was captured by an army of Bowser’s minions, the Lakitu. Back at Bowser’s Tower, Bowser reveals an additional motivation to his plot is to provide his rambunctious kids with a mother, and demands his chef make a cake that is one hundred times bigger than the humongous dessert he’s already made and orders the Koopalings to make sure that the princess doesn’t escape. However, when they go to check on her, the princess easily fools them by hiding up in the rafters and then escapes from her cell, locking them inside instead.
While Mario and Luigi struggle to reach Bowser’s Tower thanks to the surrounding waters being full of piranhas, the princess proves capable enough to fight and threaten her way out of the tower by use of a “cape-achute”. Although the princess manages to get to safety and meet up with Luigi, Mario ends up crashing into the castle when he saves his brother from a Bullet Bill and winds up being chained up in his own cell. Bowser has his Mechakoopa’s deliver Luigi a threatening ultimatum to deliver him the princess or lose his brother forever and, rather than send the princess back into the jaws of danger, Luigi opts to have Floyd make him up into a decoy. While the princess resolves to go save the two, Luigi is able to successfully fool Bowser with his performance and delay Mario’s execution by ordering pizza for the Koopalings. The princess, who is dressed in Luigi’s clothing, bursts in holding a bomb and demands that Mario be set free; the Koopalings’ confusion soon turns to anger as Luigi swipes the keys from Roy Koopa and, thanks to a distraction from Yoshi, is able to free Mario just in time for the two of them to help fight off the Thwomps and Chucks who threaten to crush the princess, Yoshi, and Floyd to death. Unfortunately in the commotion, the fuse on the princess’ bomb catches fire and the tower collapses in a massive explosion!
Although blasted to safety and pleased with their victory, the group realises that they’re still stuck on Dinosaur Island so one of the princess’s Toads offers to fly back to the Mushroom Kingdom for help. When help arrives, though, it turns out to be a bunch of Bowser’s minions in disguise and Bowser himself shows up to capture the princess once again. After fighting off Koopa’s forces, Mario and Luigi are astounded to see Yoshi sprout wings from over-eating; however, in their haste to chase after the Koopa King, they end up getting lost and crash-landing before a spooky chalet in a fog-strewn forest. Luigi suggests that they rest in the house, not realising that it’s another of Bowser’s devious traps, and, despite Mario’s better judgement, the two are lured inside by the irrespirable smell of Provolone. Trapped inside and separated from Yoshi, the duo are attacked by Boos; although the little spirits blush uncontrollably when looked at, they charge at the plumbers when their backs are turned, eager to take a bite out of their behinds! Eventually, Mario and Luigi find themselves trapped between a gaggle of Boos and the mighty Big Boo but are finally able to escape by luring the Big Boo into a faux therapy session where Mario gets to the roots of the ghost’s debilitating fear of humans.
Having scammed their way out of the chalet, Mario and Luigi hop back onto Yoshi and race off to Marvy Mansion to keep the princess from marrying Bowser. Everyone in the Mushroom Kingdom is present for the wedding thanks to Bowser’s forces making up the majority of the guests and Magikoopa hypnotising the rest into compliance. With security type, and the hypnotised Yoshi’s willingly allowing themselves to be encased in eggs, Mario and Luigi sneak into the fortress using a pipe and end up being attacked by a Thwomp in a lava pit! While Bowser admires himself and his super sexy white suit, the princess throws a massive tantrum and continues to refuse to go through with the wedding, so Bowser has Magikoopa hypnotise the princess into falling in love with him. Thankfully, Mario crashes the party before the princess can say “I do” but, thanks to Magikoopa’s influence, ends up being beaten and tied up when the princess refuses to leave her beloved’s side. The ceremony is interrupted again, however, when Luigi and Yoshi free all other Yoshis from their eggs and the cuddly little dinosaurs quickly trample all over Bowser’s forces, including Magikoopa. After keeping Bowser from escaping in his little ‘copter, Mario fights his nemesis atop the gigantic wedding cake and merges victorious when the cake collapses, apparently taking Bowser with it, and thus saving the princess and the Mushroom Kingdom for another day.
The fun doesn’t end there, though, as the collected edition includes an additional tale that is basically an adaptation of Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins(Nintendo R&D1, 1992). Unlike in the videogame, rather than Wario usurping Mario’s castle and forcing him to collect the titular six Golden Coins to retake his home, “Mario vs. Wario” shows Wario as the king of his own castle and inviting Mario to a reunion after twenty years of having not seen each other. In this story, Mario and Wario were childhood friends but their memories of those days differ wildly; while Mario recalls the two having fun playing in the garden, “[experimenting] with Coins”, and playing cowboys, Wario remembers Mario as a bully and a liar who got to get all the best vegetables while Wario got bitten by piranhas, how Mario got the Coins while Wario got flattened by a Thwomp, and (worst of all) how Wario was always forced to be the cattle rustler who was beaten by Mario’s sheriff. Mario has very quick run-ins with the bosses from the videogame, the majority of whom he has no idea are actually looking to cause him harm and whom he defeats (or kills, in one case) simply by being helpful or friendly. When he reaches Wario’s home, though, he is attacked by a big, mean incarnation of his old friend but Mario quickly takes the wind out of Wario’s sails, quite literally, by deflating his balloon-like form. Mario then makes amends with Wario but Wario’s grievances with his rival are rekindled when Mario busts out a cowboy hat and water pistol and casts himself as the sheriff once again!
The Summary: Super Mario Adventures is a colourful, endlessly fun little adaptation of the Super Mario videogames, most prominently Super Mario World. Perfectly capturing the look and feel of the videogames, the manga-like presentation of the story is immediately appealing and the artwork is consistently vivid and amusing all the way through. Add to that the moments of humour, sight and physical gags, and little details like characters playing a Super Mario substitute (with either with Mario or Bowser as the hero) or Luigi and Princess Toadstool swapping outfits really add to the quirky nature of the story.
Mario is characterised as an energetic, brave do-gooder with a playful nature and a quick temper at times, especially when he’s scammed by Friendly Floyd. He is committed to helping the princess by any means necessary, whether it’s by fixing her pipes (oi-oi!) or rescuing her from Bowser and is constantly keeping his brother focused on the tasks at hand. While he’s not a complete coward or a stick-in-the-mud, Luigi has a running gag throughout the story where he’s constantly distracted by his hunger. At first, he seems to lack the courage to act without his brother by his side and would rather eat or slink away than work or fight Bowser’s minions but, when Mario is captured, he voluntarily switches places with the princess and uses his wiles to free his brother and he’s directly responsible for helping to stop the wedding and provide much-needed back-up when he helps free the Yoshis.
While Yoshi is merely just a cute, cuddly sidekick, his motivations are called into question when he’s introduced as the duo (especially Luigi) are initially worried that he must be intending to eat them, he proves essential to their quest thanks to his insatiable appetite and ability to sprout new abilities as he gobbles up Goombas and such. As for Princess Toadstool, she’s an absolute bad-ass in this story! Right away, she adamantly refuses to submit to Bowser and only ends up being captured in the first place because she chooses to bring the fight to the Koopa King rather than let him run roughshod over her kingdom. Indeed, while the duo try valiantly to rescue her from Bowser’s Tower, she actually escapes without their help and only ends up being recaptured because of them. In the end, her demeanour and rage are so fervent that Bowser is forced to resort to hypnotising her to force her to go through with the ceremony, which is something I’ve personally never seen him stoop to in any of the videogames or adaptations.
As for Bowser, well…he’s a very loud, bombastic figure here and certainly commands a great deal of dangerous forces but he’s not actually very effectual as a villain. He’s more concerned with winning the princess over, the cut of his suit, and the size of the wedding cake than spitting fireballs at Mario and their final confrontation is pretty humiliating for the Koopa King. Indeed, Bowser spends more of his time delegating down to his Koopalings, who are young and easily distracted and fooled by the antics of Mario, Luigi, and the princess. Magikoopa is, without a doubt, Bowser’s most useful minion as, without the maniacal wizard, he would never have been able to subjugate the Yoshis and the rest of the kingdom and, when Magikoopa is taken out of the equation, it’s surely no coincidence that Bowser is buried beneath a pile of sweet frosting soon after.
And then there’s Wario, easily my favourite character in the entire franchise, who is reduced to a bitter, snivelling child thanks to a lifetime of resenting Mario. It’s interesting that “Mario vs. Wario” paints Mario in such a negative light; here, he’s extremely naïve and insensitive to the feelings and concerns of others and is focused only on having a good time playing with his friend without considering Wario’s perspective. Indeed, the ending seems to suggest that Wario’s version of their childhood is more accurate since Mario not only calls him a “wimp” for getting upset but goes right back to type by chasing after him as the “sheriff”. It’s a fun enough little epilogue to the main story but all-too-brief for an adaptation of Super Mario Land 2 and, while it provides an interesting twist on the Mario/Wario rivalry from the time, it ends up veering a bit too far away from Wario’s more popular portrayal as a greedy, disgusting, self-obsessed mirror of Nintendo’s portly mascot.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Have you ever read Super Mario Adventures? What did you think to it? Were you a fan of the manga’s quirky art style and humour? How do you think it worked as an adaptation of Super Mario World and the franchise’s gameplay mechanics? Did you read and collect Nintendo Power? If so, what were some of your favourite sections and inclusions in the magazine? Did you enjoy Mario’s other comic book adaptations as well and would you like to see another produced some time? Feel free to leave your thoughts on Super Mario Adventures, and Mario in general, down below and thanks for being a part of Mario Month.
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: 20 July 1986 Director: Masami Hata Distributor: Shochiku-Fuji Company VAP Video Budget: Unknown Stars: Toru Furuya, Yū Mizushima, Mami Yamase, Akiko Wada, and Kōhei Miyauchi
The Plot: When Princess Peach (Yamase) suddenly emerges from Mario’s (Furuya) games console in a desperate bid to escape the clutches of King Bowser of the Koopas (Wada), Mario and his brother, Luigi (Mizushima), venture into the fantastical Mushroom Kingdom and are tasked with retrieving three powerful artefacts in order to defeat Bowser and rescue the princess.
The Background: By 1986, Nintendo’s portly plumber mascot was fast becoming one of the most successful and recognisable videogame character in the world; Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo R&D4, 1985) sold about three million copies within three months of its Japanese release and was regarded as the hottest videogame on the market and, though it wouldn’t be released worldwide until 1993, Super Mario Bros. 2 (ibid, 1986) was an equally popular release in its native Japan. To capitalise on Mario’s growing success, which would eventually see him eclipse Mickey Mouse in popularity, Nintendo allowed Japanese studio Grouper Productions to create and advertise an anime adaptation of their fast-growing franchise. Never released outside of Japan, Sūpā Mario Burazāzu: Piichi-hime Kyūshutsu Dai Sakusen! (or “Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach!”) has been both dubbed and subtitled by fans but remains one of the Mario’s most obscure pieces of media (though its fidelity to the source material has drawn praise).
The Review: Unlike, say,Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie(Ikegami, 1999), there really was no way for me to experience the Super Mario Bros.anime except to use online resources. The animated feature never released outside of Japan and I have no idea how accessible it even is out there; indeed, I only became aware of it when studying videogame adaptations for my PhD and found next to no writing or background on it.
Still, despite how obscure and unknown the anime is, it has a lot of elements to its narrative and presentation that will be immediately recognisable to anyone who is a fan of the videogames and Mario’s various other adaptations into other media. For example, although Mario and Luigi work in a grocery store rather than as plumbers in a loose approximation of the real world, they own a Nintendo Family Computer (FAMICOM) on which Mario plays a game that is startlingly similar to Super Mario Bros. And yet, Mario is surprisingly nonplussed when Princess Peach (closely followed by a whole slew of Mario’s videogame enemies) comes flying out of his television set; instead, he is immediately besotted by her beauty and wishes to protect her based purely on his attraction to her. Mario, however, is no match for Bowser, despite Peach’s immediate and unwavering belief in his ability to save her. Quite why Peach has such faith in Mario isn’t really made clear (maybe she watched him as he played videogames? But he seemed to be struggling with his Super Mario Bros. clone so I’m not sure that’s a fair indication of his heroic prowess). Luigi laughs the whole experience off as a crazy daydream until he sees the precious gem Peach left behind when Bowser kidnapped her; consulting a book, he tells Mario that the jewel is a treasure of the Mushroom Kingdom, which you might assume exists in the real world as well as a result but, when the two chase after Kibidango (Shigeru Chiba) when it steals the gem, they are magically transported to the “Treasure Kingdom” via a warp pipe so…who really knows?
There, they meet the wizard-like Mushroom Hermit (Miyauchi), who reveals that he summoned them there to help defeat Bowser, who has not only kidnapped Princess Peach but, like in the original videogame, transformed the citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom into bricks. The Mushroom Hermit discloses that Mario and Luigi are part of an ancient prophecy regarding two brothers who would be able to acquire the power necessary to rescue the princess, in this case the “Mushroom of Strength”, “Flower of Courage”, and the “Yellow star of Invincibility” that have been hidden across the kingdom. Thus, accompanied by Kibidango, the duo set off across the vast land in search of their objectives (accompanied by one of many cringe-worthy, jaunty little songs). Despite the efforts of a couple of Goombas (Hiroko Maruyama and Kazue Komiya) and an overly-maternal Paratroopa (Reiko Nakano), Mario retrieves the Mushroom of Strength from atop a mountain. The Mushroom appears to give Mario superhuman strength to take out Bullet Bills and even grow to gigantic proportions but it’s hard to tell if this is really happening or just part of the anime’s weird fantasy presentation. The Goombas then try to lead the duo into a field of Petey Piranha plants and, when they destroy it with their escape, they incur the wrath of Lakitu (Junko Hori). However, a convenient beanstalk helps save Mario from Lakitu’s Spinies and, though he struggles a bit with operating Lakitu’s cloud, they’re rewarded with the Flower of Courage for their efforts.
The entire time that the brothers are out looking for the three treasures, Princess Peach laments her fate and awaits her rescue. However, she does angrily rebuke Bowser’s advances and desire to marry her despite the fact that the Koopa King is nothing but polite, attentive, and eager to please her by using his shape-shifting powers to cheer her up (you know…those shape-changing powers that Bowser is well known for…) Her one attempt to try and escape from him by locking him in a box when he takes the form of a small teddy bear backfires completely and, when she learns that Mario and Luigi have been trapped in a gold mine (despite Mario now being able to toss fireballs), she is left despondent. The duo escape, however, after Luigi digs a tunnel; they even stumble upon the Yellow Star of Invincibility, which Mario retrieves from deep beneath the ocean despite a slew of aggressive sea creatures (interestingly, Luigi complains that he can’t swim and yet Mario and Kibidango are perfectly capable of breathing underwater…) Armed with all three weapons, the two brothers and their oddly canine companion journey on a flying ship they raised from the bottom of the sea (using little more than their breath…somehow…) to Koopa’s Castle and a confrontation with the King of the Koopas.
The Nitty-Gritty: If there’s one thing that you can’t fault The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! on, it’s its unwavering fidelity to the source material. While the live-action movie was more a weird mish-mash of science-fiction and fantasy, its anime counterpart faithfully recreates many of the wackier and fantastical elements from the videogames. This means that many of the game’s most recognisable enemies appear, even if just in small, cameo roles, and the anime makes frequent use of the music and sound effects form the videogames as well. This is best seen near the end of the feature when, while navigating past the hazards in Koopa’s Castle, the anime’s presentation switches to a side-scrolling style that emulates the look of the videogames. Yet, despite being far more faithful to the source material than the live-action movie, the anime still takes many liberties. Commonplace power-ups become rare treasures necessary to defeat Bowser, for example, and the two Goombas that feature are portrayed as King Koopa’s trusted lieutenants.
Mario is characterised as a love-sick gamer who readily rises to the challenge of rescuing the princess. His initial fear and trepidation gives way to a bold courage the moment he learns that he and Luigi are prophesied to save the Mushroom Kingdom and he ventures into the unknown without fear, with the only thing stopping him from succeeding being his tendency to lose himself in daydreams of him and Peach getting married. While Mario is motivated simply to rescue Peach and keep her from being forcibly married to King Koopa, Luigi is convinced to go along when the Mushroom Hermit permits him to take as many Golden Coins as he can find. This is a continual sub-plot and character trait of his throughout the anime as his search for riches constantly leads the two into danger or backfires against him; his cache of Coins transform into child-like Toads, for example, they are trapped in the gold mine when the Goombas prey upon Luigi’s greed and, while his mining does uncover the final treasure, he’s left with a bag full of rocks rather than priceless gold. Indeed, while he’s generally the practical voice of reason and thinks about concerns such as food and water while Mario daydreams about Princess Peach, Luigi is easily tricked on numerous occasions, such as when the Goombas lead him into a field of mushrooms that cause his behaviour to wildly fluctuate between happiness, sadness, and anger.
Bowser’s characterisation is a far cry from the bombastic overlord seen in the comics and other cartoons; to be fair, though, Bowser didn’t have much of a personality at this time and it is amusing to see how polite and attentive he is towards Peach…it just would have been nice if he’d appeared to be a credible threat for longer than a couple of minutes. In the end, the two brothers arrive right as the wedding between King Koopa and Princess Peach is about the take place; Bowser’s excitement at finally getting his wish turns to anger when they crash the party and he forces the two to overcome both his minions and a series of deadly traps while he continues the ceremony in private. Regardless, they are able to best these hazards and face Bowser head-on; although King Koopa cuts an intimidating figure and boasts flame breath, Mario consumes all three treasures and becomes super-powered (I guess you’d call him “Super Mario”) as a result. Exhibiting superhuman strength, Mario easily defeats King Koopa by putting a beating on him and tossing him away by his tail, thus restoring the Mushroom Kingdom to its former glory. However, Mario is distraught when Peach chooses to marry Kibidango, who turns out to have been her betrothed, Prince Haru (Masami Kikuchi), all along. Still, the two vow to return to aid the Princess and the Mushroom Kingdom should they ever be threatened again.
The Summary: Sūpā Mario Burazāzu: Piichi-hime Kyūshutsu Dai Sakusen! is quite the head-trip. When I first saw it, I marvelled at how similar many of its elements are to other Super Mario cartoons, especially considering how obscure it is. This, however, is largely down to a lot of the lore detailed in the videogame manuals from the time but it’s always a blast to see iconic characters such as Mario and Luigi come to life in a traditional anime. I feel it’s unfair to judge the quality of the voice acting as I was watching a dubbed version but this definitely has a lot of rough edges; the music not taken from the videogames is grating and embarrassing, the animation is quite jerky and low quality, and a lot of the colours are off (especially on Luigi). It also looks quite cheaply made and is bogged down by some odd original concepts and adaptations of Super Mario Bros.’ gameplay mechanics. Still, it’s a charming enough little obscurity and well worth seeking out if you can find it, and a wider release, though it can’t be denied that there are better anime and Super Mario adaptations out there.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
Have you ever seen Sūpā Mario Burazāzu: Piichi-hime Kyūshutsu Dai Sakusen!, especially out in the wild? If so, what did you think of it and how do you feel it compares to other adaptations of the videogames? What did you think to the anime’s animation and portrayal of the videogame characters? Did you find King Koopa’s attentive personality and Luigi’s focus on riches amusing or do you think they were a bit far-fetched? Would you like to see another anime version of Super Mario Bros.? Share your thoughts on Mario’s obscure anime adventure, and your favourite Super Mario memories, in the comments below and check back in next Thursday for the last week of Mario Month.
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: 29 September 2011 Originally Released: 21 October 1992 Original Developer: Nintendo R&D1 Also Available For: Game Boy
The Background: After Super Mario Land (ibid, 1989), a launch title for Nintendo’s influential Game Boy handheld console, sold over 18 million copies, and given the risingsuccess of the Super Mario franchise, a sequel was all-but-inevitable. Spearheaded once again by Gunpei Yokoi, the man behind the Game Boy, development of the sequel began in November 1991 and was eventually geared towards capturing the same feel and tone as Super Mario World (Nintendo EAD, 1990). Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins continued the trend of the Mario Land sub-series of introducing new antagonists into the franchise with the creation of my favourite Mario character, Wario. Mario’s evil doppelgänger was created by director Hiroji Kiyotake and born out of the development team’s disdain for working on a franchise they didn’t help create; nevertheless, Wario not only subsequently took over the Mario Land series and became a popular character in his own right but Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins was released to rave reviews, sold over 11 million copies, is largely considered one of the best Game Boy titles, and was eventually released on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, which is the version I’ll be looking at today.
The Plot: After returning from his adventures in Super Mario Land, Mario finds his castle and the land surrounding it has been usurped by his diabolical doppelgänger, Wario! In order to restore the land, Mario must travel to six different worlds (referred to as “Zones”) and collect the titular Golden Coins to enter Wario’s fortress and topple his nefarious lookalike.
Gameplay: Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer; rather than the linear format of the previous title, the sequel incorporates a world map similar to the ones seen in Super Mario Bros. 3 (ibid, 1988) and Super Mario World and allows players to pick and choose the stages they challenge once they get past the opening tutorial level. While Super Mario Land was an extremely basic and simplistic title, Super Mario Land 2 looks and feels much more like its later 8- and 16-bit counterparts thanks to much bigger, far more detailed graphics, an overworld map, and has far more to do and see throughout the game (the game is so much bigger than its predecessor that it includes a battery back-up save feature, allowing you to have three different save files at once).
Functionally, though, Mario controls exactly the same; players can run by holding B, jump with A, and perform a spinning jump by holding down on the directional pad (D-pad) while jumping, which allows Mario to smash or pop goodies out of blocks when standing on top of them. Mario is a little more slippery this time around but it’s nowhere near as bad as in Super Mario Bros.(ibid, 1983) and he has just enough weight to him to make him crisp and responsive. Sadly, there are no vehicles to pilot this time around so players must rapidly tap A to swim when under water rather than piloting a submarine.
As always, Mario can only take one hit before dying so you’ll need to grab a Super Mushroom or other power-up to defend yourself from attack. You won’t have to try too hard to find and accumulate extra lives, though, as you can earn them by collecting Hearts (found in blocks and/or won in bonus stages), defeating 100 enemies (helpfully tracked in the game’s heads-up display (HUD)), or defeating five enemies in a row while invincible. Of course, you’ll have to contend with a time limit and many bottomless pits along the way but you can hit bells part-way through stages to create a checkpoint in case the worst happens.
Super Mario Land 2 is divided into six stages, now called “Zones”, each of which has at least one “Special Area” that can be accessed by finding a hidden exit within one of the Zone’s stages. You’ll also be able to visit a couple of different courses and areas from the overworld to grab a healthy supply of Coins, stock up on power-ups or extra lives, and access other Zones. Zones can be tackled in any order but, since some have more stages and are more difficult than others, you might want to plan out your gameplay accordingly and tackle some of the shorter, easier stages first. After clearing each of the six Zones, you’ll acquire one of the titular Golden Coins; get all six and you can enter the game’s final area, which is devoid of enemies but full of traps and tricky obstacles and leads directly to the final confrontation with Wario.
For the most part, the game controls and plays like a traditional Mario title; this means you’ll be doing a lot of jumping, travelling through pipes, and hopping on enemy’s heads. Gameplay is mixed up a bit, though, by frequent instances of water (though mostly in the Turtle Zone), forcing you to jump across platforms above an endless void (particularly seen in Tree Zone, which also has you using sticky sap to avoid spikes and pits), or navigate disappearing/reappearing blocks in Pumpkin Zone. You’ll also ride on a fair amount of moving platforms or cross vast chasms in bubbles but probably the most unique Zone is Space Zone, which features both an autoscrolling section, a unique sprite for Mario, and much lighter gravity that allows you to jump far higher and stay in the air indefinitely by holding down A.
Graphics and Sound: Compared to its predecessor, Super Mario Land 2 is a quantum leap forward in terms of graphics and presentation; it’s still a basic title (it is a Game Boy game, after all) but sprites and backgrounds are so much bigger, far more detailed, and world’s beyond the simplistic aesthetic of the first game. It’s actually mind boggling to me how much of an improvement the game is in such a short space of time; the first game was like a super scaled down version of Super Mario Bros. and it worked for what it was but this is like a small-scale version of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, featuring far more stages, much more variety, and is far bigger, allowing players to pick and choose the order of the Zones and how they play, with many of the mechanics and features of this game bleeding over into Wario’s spin-offs.
Of course, bigger sprites means bigger hit boxes, which can be an issue, and the game does noticeably slow down when there are a lot of sprites onscreen at once (which isn’t something I can say for the first game) but I can forgive that for the sheer amount of detail and variety on offer. In Super Mario Land, background details were sparse and limited but, here, each Zone feels big, unique, and full of quirky little gimmicks and elements. Turtle Zone sees you exploring a submarine before venturing into the belly of a giant whale, for example, while Macro Zone has you travelling through a house from the garden to the inside and up to the bedroom/library all while shrunk down to a size that makes everyday household objects seem far bigger. Pumpkin Zone also stands out, being the now-traditional haunted house/Boo stage of the game and featuring a lot of clever lighting and graphical details.
Even the overworld is bustling with life; you see a dark, ominous storm cloud over Wario’s Castle (and Wario himself pacing along the rooftop), the water surrounding the land constantly shifts, and Mario can even get literally sucked into some of the Zones. The game’s music is also much improved, featuring a catchy main theme, unique tunes for the Zones and boss battles, and just being much more memorable and lively compared to its predecessor.
Enemies and Bosses: Super Mario Land 2 also features a wide assortment of enemies, including (as you might expect) the return of several series staples such as Goombas (who also come in a winged variant), Boos, Koopa Troopas (whose shells you can now use to smash blocks and defeat enemies like in the main games), Piranha Plants, Bullet Bills, and Cheep Cheeps. You’ll also encounter some new enemies, some more interesting than others: Antotto is literally just an ant, for example, but Bomubomu is a pig that fires cannonballs at you! Some of the game’s most unique enemies appear in Mario Zone and Pumpkin Zone, including J-son (whose oddly familiar hockey mask has a knife sticking out of it!), a clown-faced Jack-in-the-Box, and Kurokyura the Vampire (who throws bats (or “Minikyura” at you). You’ll also encounter a weird cow/fish hybrid in Tree Zone, an indestructible, boxing-glove-wearing shark in Turtle Zone, and giant, fireball-spewing piranha status in Wario’s Castle.
Six Zones means, of course, that Mario has to defeat six bosses to retrieve the six Golden Coins and confront Wario. While there is no “instant kill” switch as seen in the previous game, none of these bosses really pose that much of a threat as long as you are packing the Fire Flower, which makes most of them an absolute joke. The first boss I fought was Turtle Zone’s Pako, a giant octopus that spits its smaller, invulnerable offspring (“Poko”) out at you as it swims across the arena. Despite taking place underwater, which limits your mobility, you can simply spam fireballs at it or bounce on its bulbous head three times without too much difficulty. Next, I took on Tree Zone’s Big Bird, which you battle in its nest at the top of the tree. As its sole method of attack is to swoop down at you, this one is also easily cheesed with the Fire Flower but it’s equally pretty simple to just jump on its head.
I then fought the Witch in the final area of the Pumpkin Zone; this boss can actually be quite tricky as the Witch teleports about the screen throwing fireballs at you, which can ignite under her cauldrons and send you up into the spikes in the ceiling. I found the best strategy was to stay in the middle of the screen and spam fireballs but you can easily anticipate where she’s going to teleport in so you can jump on her head. In Mario Zone, you’ll battle the Three Little Pigs, who come at you one at a time using rolling and bouncing attacks. I can’t say too much about this one as I just tossed fireballs at them relentlessly and bounced on their heads to beat them in seconds but I can’t imagine them causing you too much trouble.
Macro Zone has you battling a Sewer Rat that darts in and out from pipes and clambers all over the walls and ceilings of the arena to drop down on you; this one can be tricky because of how fast the boss is but, again, the Fire Flower will make short work of it. Finally, in Space Zone, I took on a familiar face as Tatanga, the final boss of the first game, returns for a rematch. As this battle takes place in the low gravity of the Moon, it can be tricky to dodge between Tatanga’s two energy bolts, each of which has a different attack pattern, and his tendency to stay on the top corners of the screen makes using your fireballs much more difficult. Thankfully, he also tries to dive bomb you, leaving him wide open for attack, and he’s far weaker than in the last game, going down in just three hits like every other boss in the game.
Similarly, the final battle against Wario is a much grander and elaborate fair than the final boss of Super Mario Land; as if running the gauntlet of Wario’s many traps and hazards and battling multiple floating Wario faces wasn’t enough, Wario (here a much bigger, monstrous figure than usually depicted) has three phases to his boss battle. In the first, he charges and stomps around the throne room trying to squash you and causing crystal balls to fall from the ceiling. Next, he grabs a Carrot to become Bunny Wario and takes refuge at the top of the screen before dropping down onto you and, finally, he becomes Fire Wario and launches fireballs at you while also jumping at you. While you have to take on all three phases one after the other, you can grab power-ups between each one and, again, Wario is defeated in three hits each time so, while this is easily the longest and most involved boss battle in the game, it’s no mean feat.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: As mentioned before, and as you should expect from a Mario title, Mario can grab a Super Mushroom to become Super Mario; this allows him to take a hit without dying, destroy certain blocks, and perform the spin jump. You can also grab an “M” bag to earn more Coins and a Star to become invincible; while you can still die from bottomless pits and certain hazards, defeating five enemies in a row (and every one thereafter) will also award you with an extra life in this form.
While he no longer has his cool little vehicles from the last game, Mario does get some cool power-ups this time around: the bouncy Superball is gone, replaced with the traditional Fire Flower (which, honestly, is the power-up you should favour at every opportunity) and Mario can now grab a Carrot to become Bunny Mario. This gives him bunny ears and allows you to float through the air by rapidly tapping A, though Mario descends slowly over time so it’s best to get a good run up or jump from a high ledge.
Additional Features: While Super Mario Land 2 doesn’t really feature a scoring system, Coins still serve a purpose in that Mario can use them in certain areas of the overworld to buy extra lives and power-ups. If you exit each stage using the upper exit, you’ll get to play either a claw machine or a circuit mini game that can also net you these same rewards, allowing you to earn many extra lives very quickly. Unlike the previous game, though, there’s no harder game mode to be unlocked; once you’ve beaten the game, all that’s left to do is reload your save file to find any hidden exists and areas you’ve missed or start the game over from the beginning again. When playing the 3DS version of the game, you can, of course, make liberal use of the save state feature to make the game an absolute breeze, which is always a helpful and appreciated feature.
The Summary: Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins is a fantastic little game; it never fails to impress me how much bigger and better it is compared to its predecessor, which looks like a Game & Watch title in comparison. Super Mario Land 2 is much more like the later 8-bit Mario titles in its detail, variety, and scope, making for a game that takes up much more of your time and is thus far more enjoyable on those long car journeys. Everything from the sprites, backgrounds, and music has been brought up a notch and the game is really showing the power and potential of the Game Boy to emulate its bigger, home console counterparts. Add to that the fact that Super Mario Land 2 was one of the first Game Boy titles I owned and that it introduced my favourite Mario character, Wario, and you have a game that not only holds up really well as a solid Mario/Game Boy title but also a game that is very close to my heart. I’ve always had more affinity and appreciation from Mario’s handheld adventures and Super Mario Land 2 is largely to thank for that.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Did you ever play Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins on the old Game Boy brick? How do you feel it compares to the original and other Mario titles from the time? Are you a fan of Wario and would you like to see him return to prominence in the franchise? What are some of your memories/experiences with the Game Boy? Whatever your thoughts on the Game Boy and Mario’s handheld adventures, feel free to leave a comment below.
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: 2011 Originally Released: 21 April 1989 Original Developer: Nintendo R&D1 Also Available For: Game Boy
The Background: In 1989, Nintendo were preparing to release their handheld console, the Game Boy, a machine that would go on to pretty much define portable gaming. To coincide with this release, they needed fun, appealing titles to attract players and Super Mario was the obvious candidate given how wellSuper Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 1985) had sold some years prior. The first game in the series not to feature the input of Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, the game was also significantly shorter and smaller than its home console counterpart. While this has been reflected in reviews, Super Mario Land sold over 18 million copies, kickstarting an entire sub-series for Nintendo’s portly plumber that was exclusive to its handheld devices. Naturally, it was eventually ported to the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console with some minor revisions, which is the version I’ll be looking at today.
The Plot: After conquering the four kingdoms of Sarasaland, the diabolical space tyrant Tatanga kidnaps Princess Daisy in order to consolidate his dictatorship and only Mario has the skills and bravery necessary to travel throughout Sarasaland in a bid to rescue Daisy from Tatanga’s clutches.
Gameplay: Though functionally the same game as Super Mario Bros., there’s plenty of differences between that game and its handheld counterpart to help Super Mario Land stand out…and not all of them are good, to be honest. Like its bigger brother, Super Mario Land is a 2D sidescrolling platformer in which players control Mario as he runs, jumps, and blasts his way through four distinct Kingdoms. While the game sacrifices a lot in terms of length and graphical quality, Mario actually controls far better in his Game Boy debut than in his more famous title; for one thing, he’s far less slippery, which is a Godsend as it’s much harder to slip and randomly fall off platforms down a bottomless pits and to your death.
Mario can still jump, bouncing off enemies’ heads and gaining more height and momentum as he does so and from running by holding down the B button, and he feels like he has a bit more weight to him; not enough to make him plummet like a rock like some of his contemporaries but also not so little that he goes flying off the screen. The game is simplicity in itself; you start on the left side of the screen and run and jump to the right, taking out enemies, collecting Coins for points and extra lives, and taking your chances down the game’s various pipes to find hidden areas full of these aforementioned Coins. As in pretty much all Mario games, and most videogames at the time, you’re also racing against a time limit and can protect yourself from death by bashing blocks to randomly unearth a collectable Super Mushroom, which will transform you into Super Mario.
While Super Mario Land has only four stages, referred to as “Kingdoms”, it mixes up its gameplay significantly from other Mario games of the time with the inclusion of two autoscrolling shooter stages; one has you piloting the “Marine Pop”, the other the “Sky Pop”, a cute little submarine and bi-plane, respectively. While autoscrolling stages can be a pain in the ass, and it easy to get crushed to death if you don’t blast blocks quickly enough, these are actually quite fun and it’s just a shame that the developers didn’t program a couple more stages like these in there to help keep things interesting.
Additionally, rather than jump atop a flagpole at the end of each Kingdom, Mario exits each stage by entering a doorway; if you direct him to the top exit, you’ll be taken to a Bonus Game where you can earn anywhere between one and three extra lives or a power-up by stopping the fast-moving ladders. Extra lives are rather plentiful overall, to be honest, meaning you generally have an abundance of chances to tackle the games more troublesome and difficult sections, which usually involve making a few tricky jumps over an endless void, jumping to moving platforms, and using rolling boulders to safely cross spiked platforms.
Graphics and Sound: Given that it was a launch title for the Game Boy, a handheld console not exactly known for being the most powerful or graphically interesting amongst its peers despite its immense popularity, it’s important to set your expectations quite low for Super Mario Land. Graphics are painfully simple and monochromatic, with Mario helpfully standing out thanks to his iconic cap and moustache as, without these, he may as well have just been Mr. Game & Watch. The game’s enemies, for all their variety, don’t exactly fare much better but, thankfully, the bosses are much bigger and more indicative of the superior sequel.
Similarly, while each of the game’s four Kingdoms feels distinct, they’re not exactly teeming with detail; most opt for a plain, empty background with some simple elements (pyramids, mountains, clouds, Easter Island-like heads and the like) and an abundance of blocks, platforms, and pipes. As you progress through each Kingdom, the stages take on more distinctive and detailed environments, such as exploring inside a pyramid, with hieroglyphics etched into the background layer, or traversing the block-and-platform-ample mountaintops of the Chai Kingdom. The game also separates itself from its bigger brother by having a mostly unique soundtrack; some familiar Mario tunes are present but, for the most part, Hirokazu Tanaka’s music is distinctive enough if a little off-brand for what the franchise was known for at the time.
Enemies and Bosses: Super Mario Land features around thirty different enemies, most of which are distinct to each of the game’s four Kingdoms and many of which return from, or are directly inspired by, enemies encountered in the bigger, better Mario titles. As such, you’ll be stomping on Goomba heads, blasting Piranha Plants as they pop out of pipes, and knocking Bullet Bills out of the air but will run into a devious little trap after smacking a Koopa Trooper as their shells now explode a few seconds after they are defeated!
As mentioned, each Kingdom features their own distinct enemies: you’ll encounter spear-throwing Bunbuns and fireball-spitting Gaos in the Birabuto Kingdom; a variety of skeletal fish and fireball-spitting aquatic enemies in the Muda Kingdom; spiders and sentiment rocks and Easter Island heads in the Easton Kingdom; and zombie-like Pionpi, deadly chickens, and relentless bi-planes in the Chai Kingdom.
Each Kingdom concludes in a boss battle that is, in essence, the same as battling Bowser in Super Mario Bros. but much more varied: you’ll encounter a fireball-spitting, jumping sphinx-like lion, a large, fireball-spewing seahorse, and a rock-throwing sentient Easter Island head rock monster. Regardless of the arena or differing environment or the attacks the bosses use, your tactics pretty much stay the same until the final showdown with Tatanga: avoid their projectiles and either blast at them with Superballs or dodge behind them to take them out with a switch at the cost of some bonus points.
You’ll battle Tatanga in the Sky Pop but, before you can fight him, you’ll have to take out Biokinton, a chicken-throwing cloud that bounces around the screen. Afterwards, Tatanga rises into the sky, incessantly firing cannonballs from his Pagosu warship. While easily the toughest boss of the game, Tatanga’s shots are easy to avoid once you spot their pattern and, while he can absorb more shots than his counterparts, he still goes down fairly easily to allow Mario to literally rocket away with the true Princess Daisy.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: As you explore and bop blocks through the game’s Kingdoms, you’ll collect a number of Coins; collect one hundred and you’ll be awarded with an extra life, which can also be found sporadically throughout the game (this time in the form of a heart).
Mario’s chief power-up in this game is the Superball, which allows him to toss a projectile similar to the Fire Flower but with the added bonus of the Superball bouncing around the screen to damage multiple enemies and even collect Coins, though you can only ever throw one at a time. If you take a hit while holding a Superball, you’ll revert right back to little Mario, but you can also grab Stars for a temporary period of invincibility.
Additional Features: Unlike other Mario games of the time, you cannot play as Luigi or any character other than Mario; as a result, the primary additional features you’ll find in this game are the aforementioned autoscrolling and bonus stages. However, after you beat the game for the first time, you’ll unlock a “Hard Mode” that adds additional enemies to the game’s Kingdoms and, after clearing that mode, you’ll unlock a stage select feature. Otherwise, the 3DS version also allows you to create one save state to dramatically reduce the game’s difficulty and challenge (I remember owning this game as a kid and never being able to clear the Easton Kingdom but, thanks to the 3DS’s save feature, I beat the game in about an hour without really trying that hard).
The Summary: It’s easy to forget about Super Mario Land; not only is its sequel worlds better in every way but so is the far more memorable and popular Super Mario Bros. It’s a great little burst of fun and a decent enough distraction for short car journeys but it’s not really got much to it, even for a Game Boy launch title or a product of its time. Still, this was the first Mario title I ever played so I have a decent amount of nostalgia for it and finally beating it after all these years was cathartic, though I’d still rather play the sequel of one of Wario’s many spin-offs on the same console.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
What are your memories of Super Mario Land, if any? How do you feel it holds up compared to Super Mario Bros. or the other Mario Game Boy titles? What was your first ever Game Boy title and which is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Super Mario Land, Mario, and or the Game Boy in general, feel free to leave a comment below.
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 ofSuper 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!
Gameplay: 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, or watching the feature-lengthmovies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day” for fans of the long-running and beloved franchise to come together in celebration of all things Pokémon.
Released: 17 July 1999 Director: Kunihiko Yuyama Distributor: Toho Budget: $30 million Stars: Veronica Taylor, Neil Stewart, Rachael Lillis, Ted Lewis, Amy Birnbaum, Eric Stuart, Ikue Ōtani, Maddie Blaustein, and Eric Rath
The Plot: In the Orange Islands of the Kanto region, a cold-hearted collector (Stewart) sets in motion his plan to capture the Legendary Pokémon Articuno (Yumi Tōma), Zapdos (Katsuyuki Konishi), and Moltres (Rikako Aikawa) in order to upset the natural balance and bring forth Lugia (Rath), guardian of the sea. When Ash Ketchum (Taylor) and his friends stumble upon the collector’s plot, they face a race against time to quell the battle between the Legendary Birds and keep the world from being destroyed by a tumultuous storm caused by their conflict.
The Background: Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present) was more than just a craze when it came over from Japan: it was a phenomenon that swept through playgrounds as kids played the videogames, battling and trading with one another, collected the trading cards, bought all the magazines and such, and were mesmerised by the still-ongoing anime series (1997 to present). To say that expectations were high for the aptly-titled Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back(Yuyama, 1998) was putting it mildly; the film was not only a box office success but also enticed Poké-fans with glimpses of some completely new Pokémon!
Production of a second Pokémon movie took place during a transitional phase for the anime and the Pokémon videogames; having finished up his adventures in Kanto, Ash was travelling the Orange Islands while the developers worked on myfavourite gamesin the series, Pokémon: Gold Version and Silver Version (Game Freak, 1999). Pokémon the Movie 2000 (or “Pocket Monsters the Movie: The Phantom Pokémon: Lugia’s Explosive Birth”) was largely marketed around a brand new Legendary Pokémon, Lugia, who was the creation of Takeshi Shudo; Shudo was surprised not only when Lugia was incorporated into the games and anime but also when it was characterised as a male considering he regarded it as a more maternal Pokémon. Although the film made over $130 million at the box office, the critical reception was mixed to negative for the most part. Still, for me and many other Poké-fans at the time, Pokémon the Movie 2000 proved to be excellent promotion for the upcoming videogames and arguably was the first hint towards just how massive the franchise was set to become.
The Review: Pokémon the Movie 2000 opens by immediately introducing us to a central aspect of its plot, a prophecy that warns against disturbing the harmony of fire, ice, and lightning and foretelling the coming of a “Chosen One” to help quell the “beast of the sea”. This little rhyme emphasises that, although the “guardian” of the sea will arise should these elemental forces be pushed out of balance, “alone its song will fail and thus the world shall turn to ash”. Obviously, this has been slightly altered from the original Japanese version which, as I understand it, was slightly vaguer in its details and basically said that anyone could be the Chosen One if they were able to reunite the treasures found on islands near Samouti Island in the Orange Islands (that’s a lot of islands…) However, in the dub, it’s made ridiculously explicit that “ash” has a double meaning, which is kinda fun but I guess your enjoyment of this aspect will depend on how much of a fan of Ash you are.
Naturally, Ash, Misty (Lillis), and Tracy Sketchit (Lewis) are currently travelling around the Orange Islands and, thanks to their current guide, Maren (Tara Jane), they soon learn all about the same prophecy and the legend of the treasures from the natives of Shamouti Island. While Melody (Birnbaum) stresses that its just a simple legend that they observe for fun and frivolities, Ash takes to his duties as the “Chosen One” with vigorous enthusiasm and the gang notice that all of the Pokémon in the area, including Pikachu (Ōtani), are acting strangely. Sensing the tumultuous changes in the weather, which causes sudden rain and snowstorms, Pokémon flock to Shamouti Island in droves since they feel that the natural balance of the ecosystem is in turmoil. Melody is largely dismissive of the island’s rituals and customs, believing them to be outdated and boring, much to the chagrin of her older sister, Carol (Michelle Goguen); despite her frivolous and snarky attitude, though, Melody still takes part in the ritual, which calls for her to dance about in a pretty dress and play the “Guardian’s Song” on conch-like ocarina. When the natives peg Ash as being the Chosen One simply because he happens to be a young Pokémon trainer, Melody immediately finds a more interesting reason to play her role as she takes an instant liking to Ash, much to Misty’s annoyance. This adds an interesting wrinkle to the film and the main characters as Melody constantly winds Misty up by flirting with Ash. Clearly jealous of Melody, Misty acts all passive-aggressive at the suggestion that she is Ash’s girlfriend and, unlike in the last film where she (and basically everyone else) just stood around doing nothing, this at least gives her a small arc where she realises that she’d do anything to help out her friend.
Of course, the main characters are pursued by Jesse (Lillis), James (Stuart), and Meowth (Blaustein) of Team Rocket; still determined to get their hands on Pikachu, Team Rocket soon find that they’ve once again bitten of more than they can chew as they are buffeted around by the rampaging storm and constantly bombarded by the Legendary Birds’ attacks. When they realise that the fate of the very world is at stake, though, they decide to join forces with Ash and his friends to help gather the treasures (since they wouldn’t be able to profit if the world is destroyed). This isn’t the first or the last time Team Rocket would team up with their enemies but they actually throw themselves into this heroic role with a surprising amount of gusto; not only do they help free Moltres and Zapdos from captivity, they also help Ash reach Ice Island and are basically prepared to die in order to see him succeed.
Their role as main antagonist is usurped by a cold-hearted, arrogant philanthropist (retroactively revealed to be called Lawrence III but here simply referred to as a “Collector” of rare Pokémon) who has spent his entire life obsessed with rare Pokémon, Legendary Pokémon, and studying the legend of the “Beast of the Sea”. His efforts lead him to attack the Shamouti Islands, employing tactics very similar to games of chess where he fire elemental blasts at each of the Legendary Birds and ensnares them in special electrical bands with, it has to be said, a ridiculous amount of ease. The Collector has seemingly no concern about the ramifications of his actions; he doesn’t care how capturing one Legendary Bird upsets the balance between the three and causes the Pokémon to run wild or that a raging storm brews under the sea that threatens the world. All he cares about it forcing Lugia to the surface so he can capture it for his vast collection (which is ironic as we never actually see his vaulted collection) and, even when the Legendary Pokémon are engaged in all-out war, he continues to pursue this goal and, as a result, finds his floating palace in ruins from Lugia’s desperate counterattack. While he is left defeated, the Collector ends the film free and resolves to begin his quest all over again, which I always found to be a poor ending as he really deserved to face greater consequences for his selfish and destructive actions.
However, while the Collector may be positioned as the film’s main threat, it’s actually the warring Legendary Birds who are the primary menace for Ash and his friends. Hugely territorial, the birds generally prefer to keep to themselves on their respective islands but, when Moltres is captured, Zapdos immediately overtakes Fire Island and expands its territory. It refuses to listen to reason and doesn’t seem to care about the effect this has on the environment; it just wants to lord over more land and, when the three birds are unleashed, they engage in all-out war against each other. The effect this had is destructive and immediate but also causes a greater threat to emerge beneath the ocean, where the true “Beast of the Sea” rages; this swirling mass of energy causes catastrophic weather changes across the world and threatens the safety of everyone.
With the Legendary Birds raging out of control, Lugia finally arises to put an end to their conflict; like Mewtwo (Philip Bartlett), Lugia is fully capable of communicating with the human characters using is psychic abilities and, from it, they learn that they must bring all three treasures to a shrine and they play the Guardian’s Song in order to calm the warring trio down. While Lugia is extremely powerful, the numbers game overwhelm it constantly and its strength is directly tied to the success of the Chosen One; as a result, while it does everything it can to subdue the trio with brute force, it isn’t until Ash is able to fulfil his destiny that its powers are finally able to quell Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres and thus dissipate the environmental catastrophe that threatens the entire world.
The Nitty-Gritty: As in the last film, Pokémon the Movie 2000 merges traditional 2D anime with some CGI effects; however, as much as I enjoy this movie for its depictions of the Legendary Birds and the emphasis it places on Lugia, I always found the rendition of the four birds to be somewhat lacking compared to the likes of Mewtwo or other Legendary Pokémon. The animation is good, and of a higher standard than a regular episode of the anime, but it just doesn’t seem to look or feel as big as the last film despite having more action and higher stakes. Like the first film, there’s also a bit of computer-generation animation employed here, primarily in the Collector’s ship, the rendition of the underwater tumult, and some of the birds’ attacks; it seems to have been implemented much better compared to the last film but I wonder if a bit of CGI enhancement would have helped the birds to stand out a bit more.
While the use of rampant storms, wind, and rain is extremely similar to the aesthetic of the last movie, here it is a far bigger threat as we see the effect the trio’s battle has on Ash’s hometown and regularly cut away to a sub-plot involving Professor Samuel Oak (Stuart Zagnit) and Ash’s mother, Delia (Taylor), as they experience the severe phenomena, advise new reporters on what’s happening and theorise as to why, and even travel to the elemental islands to help out as best they can. There’s a clear and obvious environmental message in the film that warns about the dangers of interfering with or upsetting the natural order of things; while this can have severe ramifications for us in the real world, those in the Pokémon world are even more at risk as captured or provoking certain Pokémon can encourage or awake even more powerful and destructive creatures. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Pokémon the Move 2000 is its use of humour and jokes; there were some puns and gags in the first film but there’s loads of amusing little moments here, like when Misty and Melody are arguing about Ash and Tracey thinks they’re talking about him or a simple shot to Slowking (Nathan Price) when its sat in and covered by snow and it simply states, completely deadpan: “I could use pants”. These moments of levity really help to break up the film’s overall dark and bleak tone; the first movie was pretty dark in its implications and stakes but the second one escalates thing even further as the conflict between the Legendary Birds threatens to destroy the entire world and Ash is given the explicit role as the saviour of the planet rather than simply lucking into being a hero like usual.
Another area where Pokémon the Movie 2000 also excels is in its action sequences; as awesome as it was to see Mewtwo finally battle with Mew (Kōichi Yamadera), all they did was basically just bash into each other a bit while the other Pokémon slapped each other about and it did somewhat underdeliver in its fight scenes. That doesn’t happen here; Articuno, Moltres, and Zapdos attack each other without mercy and with rampant aggression that threatens everyone and everything. Sadly, for a big Articuno fan like me, the Ice-type bird gets the short end of the stick a bit as it gets battered about by its counterparts but the film is a fantastic debut for Lugia, another of my all-time favourite Pokémon. While I would have preferred to see Lugia and its counterpart, Ho-Oh, share the screen (and it’s still weird to me that this never happened, as far as I know), Lugia is an enigmatic Pokémon in its own right and more than capable of battling against all three Legendary Birds for a time. While, like Mewtwo, Lugia’s powers are vast and formidable, its not an overpowered creature; it can calm the warring trio only when all three treasures are returned to the shrine and the song is played and it even seems to die a couple of times as it is overwhelmed by the Legendary Birds. A wise and enigmatic figure, Lugia is only as strong as the Chosen One to whom it is bonded, meaning that its success in battle hinges on Ash’s ability to live up to the lofty expectations of the prophecy (and his name). Of course, he succeeds in this endeavour (and without being turned to stone this time…) but it’s pretty touch and go for a while as he is relentlessly hounded by Moltres, Zapdos, and Articuno and is only able to succeed with help from friend and foe alike.
The Summary: Since Pokémon Gold and Silver have always been my favourite Pokémon videogames, and my love of Pokémon was at its peak around this time, I’ve always had a soft spot for Pokémon the Movie 2000. It didn’t quite have the same epic feel as the first movie, mainly because the anime didn’t build towards the conflict or sow the seeds for the feature this time around and it would be difficult for any Pokémon film to match the mystery Mew elicited in young Pokémon fans at the time, but it was still a pretty impressive follow-up in its own right. With bigger, and more impressive action, a surprisingly emotional score and subtext, and debuting one of my all-time favourite Pokémon, the film is a decent entry and easily in my top three-to-five of all the Pokémon movies. Oddly, though, I don’t have quite the same level of nostalgia for this one compared to the first one and, in some ways, it might be a little more run-of-the-mill compared to the first movie but it’s got a lot going for it and, while I’m not much of a fan of Ash, it handled him being the “Chosen One” in a fairly amusing way. For me, it’s all about the battles between the Legendary Birds; while I’m still disappointed we never got to see Ho-Oh involved in the conflict, it was great seeing Moltres, Articuno, and Zapdos going at it in a furious squabble over territory that threatened the entire planet and tying Lugia’s strength in with Ash’s courage helped to keep the tension, and the stakes, pretty high as they were constantly battling the odds the entire time so I’d say it’s definitely one not to underestimate for how engaging it can be in its own right.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Are you a fan of Pokémon the Movie 2000? If so, what did you like about it; if not, how do you think it could have been better? Did you like the depiction of the Legendary Birds or would you have preferred to see them portrayed in a way that was closer to the source material? What did you think to the Collector as the main antagonist and the depiction (and debut) or Lugia? Which Pokémon game, generation, and creature is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Pokémon Day today? Whatever your thoughts, drop them in the comments below.
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 improvingas 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 successfulLegend 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 enhancedZelda’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…
Gameplay: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.