The first issue of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) was published in May of 1984. Since then, the TMNT have gone on to achieve worldwide mainstream success thanks not only to their original comics run but also a number of influential cartoons, videogames, and wave-upon-wave of action figures. This year, I’m emphasising third entries and time travel shenanigans in the popular franchise every Tuesday in May!
Released: 30 August 2022 Originally Released: March 1991 (Arcade) / 24 July 1992 (SNES) Developer: Digital Eclipse Original Developer: Konami Also Available For: Arcade, GameCube, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S
The Background: Back in the late-eighties and early-nineties, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles for us Brits) took the lives of children everywhere by storm. Before Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers(1993 to 1996) and Pokémon(1997 to present) dominated playgrounds, Christmases, and birthdays alike, kids were transfixed by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 to 1996) animated series. A toned down version of the original, far darker Mirage Comics publications, the “Heroes in a Half-Shell” were so popular that they spawned not just a series of live-action movies (of varying quality), but also additional comic book spin-offs, a beloved line of action figures, and a whole host of videogames. It was Konami’s efforts with the original TMNT arcade game that laid the foundation for some of the franchise’s most influential gaming ventures and the developers sought to expand upon those efforts with this equally beloved sequel. Bigger, better, and longer than its predecessor, much of Turtles in Time’s impact can be attributed to the surprisingly faithful home console port that wowed SNES gamers back in the day, and the game was so memorable that it received an unfairly lambasted 2.5D remake in 2009. Though ports of Turtles in Time have been sporadically available, its remake was de-listed from digital stores for the better part of eleven years, meaning Turtles in Time was (ironically) lost to time until it was included in this Cowabunga Collection for modern consoles alongside a host of other games and quality of life features. As both the arcade and SNES versions are included in this collection, and the differences between the two don’t really warrant two separate reviews, I’ll be including both versions in this review.
The Plot: The Turtles leap into action when Krang steals the Statue of Liberty, only to be sent hurtling through time courtesy of a time warp activated by their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, forcing them to fight Shredder’s army in both the past and the future in order to get home.
Gameplay: Like its predecessor, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time is a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up that supports up to four players; supposedly, two-player arcade cabinets were released and the arcade version never made it over to Japan, but this version of the game allows both on- and offline co-operative play, though the SNES version of the game is limited to two player simultaneous co-op. As ever, players can select from one of the four Ninja Turtles who all control exactly the same but play slightly differently depending on the reach of their weapons (putting Raphael at a disadvantage). Gameplay is limited to two primary buttons, with X allowing you to attack and string together basic combos and B letting you jump; you can press X in mid-air for a flying attack and press X and B together to perform a power attack that doesn’t seem to drain your health meter. Once again, you have no dash options or dashing attack, but you can now slam and hurl enemies about by hitting X when up close to them and you can pull off a “back attack” to fend off enemies attacking from behind.
Turtles in Time is much bigger and longer than the last game, sporting nine levels to play through, each of which being far livelier and with more opportunities to interact with the environment. You can hit traffic cones, hydrants, explosive barrels, and boxes of fireworks to take out enemies but, even better, onscreen hazards like wrecking balls can also damage enemies. Hazards like these are far more plentiful this time around, including loose floorboards, mines, and electrical bolts from turrets and Krang’s massive exosuit so it pays to keep your wits about you and not just charge blindly ahead. Gameplay is mixed up a bit with two levels dedicated to fast-paced, autoscrolling action, first on a hoverboard in Sewer Surfin’ and then on a floating disk in Neon Night Riders; your combat options remain the same here, but some enemies are a little harder to hit as they’re floating above you and you’ll need quick reflexes to dodge hazards like the spiked gates and mines. The SNES version offers not only an additional score bonus for these stages but even includes an extra level, complete with a traditional elevator gauntlet.
Graphics and Sound: Visually, the game is very similar to its predecessor; I’m pretty sure the sprites are all exactly the same, bar maybe a few additional animations and enemy variants, but they’re just as colourful and full of life as before. Every character pops against the background, has some limited idle animation, and the likes of Splinter and April O’Neil (depending on which version you’re playing) will appear to hurry you along if you dawdle. Voice clips are used to great effect, especially in the arcade release, with the Turtles shrieking, “My toes! My noes!” when hurt by spikes and ending every stage with a triumphant cry of “Cowabunga!” alongside a victory animation. Voice samples are far sparser and more dulled in the SNES version, naturally, which relies more on subtitles and its own sound effects, but both games still perfectly capture the quirky and slapstick nature of the cartoon. The SNES version also presents a different version of the Neon Night Riders stage, with the action taking place from behind the characters and the stage tweaked to make use of the console’s “Mode 7” features.
Environments are far more varied this time around; thanks to the time travel plot, the TMNT don’t just fight through the streets and sewers of New York City but are also transported back to a prehistoric jungle (complete with shimmering heat effects from the lava and a cave full of falling stalactites), a pirate ship full of loose planks, a speeding train in the Old West, and the neon streets of the far-flung future! Levels are noticeably longer and with more enemies, with no visible slowdown, though the SNES version is automatically slower since you can’t activate a “Turbo Mode” to speed things up. The SNES version of the game does add a whole new Technodrome level, however, and swaps some bosses around, even replacing one entirely with one of my favourite villains from the series. Both versions of the game use big, colourful art to tell their story, with the SNES version offering different endings depending on the difficulty setting you played on. Finally, while the SNES version features some popping tunes and a decent rendition of the TMNT theme song, the arcade version impresses with its funky, adrenaline-pumping soundtrack and even boasts a rendition of “Pizza Power” for its introduction sequence.
Enemies and Bosses: As is tradition for a TMNT videogame, you’ll primarily be fighting your way through hordes of robotic Foot Soldiers; these come in all different colours and variants, from the regular, easily dispatched purple ones to weapon-wielding goons garbed in red, silver, or yellow. These guys will toss shuriken at you, stab at you with spears and swords, toss giant bombs, or swing axes; they also come flying in on dinosaurs, charge at you on fire-breathing Velociraptors, and pilot flying machines. Robots also return as notable enemies, with one wildly swinging its boxing gloves at you, though you’ll only encounter Mousers in the SNES version of the game. There are some new enemies in Turtles in Time, too, including the Xenomorph-like Pizza Monsters and the Rock Soldiers, who charge at you and wield high-powered weapons of their own.
Also, as is to be expected, some of the TMNT’s most recognisable foes return to dog you as end of level bosses. The first you’ll encounter is Baxter Stockman, now mutated into his human fly form; Baxter hovers overhead firing at you with a machine gun, only to switch to sending out plasma fists after you’ve damaged him enough. At the end of Alleycat Blues, you’ll battle Metalhead, who attacks from a distance with his extendable arms and legs and flies at you courtesy of a rocket-powered kick, though he has a tendency to stop and gloat and leave himself open to a counterattack. Sewer Surfin’ doesn’t feature a boss in the arcade version, instead forcing you to fend of a swarm of Pizza Monsters, but you’ll take on the Rat King in the SNES version, which is much more interesting and exciting as he’s in his little hovercraft and fires missiles and mines at you. Similarly, you face the underwhelming Cement Man in the arcade version of the Prehistoric Turtlesaurus level, with the mud-like goon sliming about the place and trapping you in mud, but the SNES version replaces him with Slash! This deranged doppelgänger is far more formidable, slashing at you with his jagged blade and spinning about the place as a whirling shell of bladed fury, making him a far worthier adversary.
After battling across the deck of a pirate ship, you’ll face both Tokka and Rahzar; while they simple charge, swipe, and hop about in the arcade version, they’re much more formidable in the SNES version, where they appear in the new Technodrome stage and sport flame and freezing breath and act as sub-bosses. In the SNES version of the pirate ship level, Bepop and Rocksteady take Tokka and Rahzar’s place; garbed in theme-appropriate attire, they attack you with a whip and sword, respectively. The hulking Leatherhead awaits at the end of the train stage, scurrying about the place, lashing at you with his tail, and tossing daggers your way, while you’ll go one-on-one with Krang while racing through the futuristic streets of 2020 A.D. Krang’s a lot less of a threat compared to the last game, dashing at you with a kick, smacking you with a clap attack, and firing missiles from his chest, but he resurfaces in the Technodrome stage. Now flying a UFO, he drops Mousers into the arena and teleports about to avoid your attacks, but the SNES version also adds a bubble-like projectile to his arsenal and has him more erratically which, in conjunction with his height, can make him a difficult target.
Naturally, you’ll also do battle with the TMNT’s mortal enemy, the Shredder. However, in the SNES version of the game, you actually battle him twice and the final battle is noticeably different in both versions. The first time you face him is at the end of the new Technodrome level, where he hops behind the controls of some unseen giant mech and blasts at you with bullets while swiping with a retractable claw arm in perhaps one of the game’s most memorable boss battles. To defeat the Shredder, you need to avoid his targeting reticule and hurl Foot Soldiers at him in a fun bit of innovation, though this can be tricky to do due to poor visibility and the sheer number of enemies and projectiles. The Shredder awaits in the final stage of the game, too, where the Statue of Liberty looms in the background; in the arcade version, he attacks with his sword and martial arts skills while also sending out plasma hands similar to Baxter and once again sporting an instant death regression blast that turns you back into a regular turtle. In the SNES version, Shredder immediately transforms into his far more formidable Super Shredder form; protected by a flaming aura, Super Shredder sends fireballs flying your way, shoots flames along the ground, and fires bolts into the air while dashing about the screen at breakneck speed.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: Unfortunately, for all the additions Turtles in Time sports, power-ups are not one of them. You can still replenish your health with the odd pizza box but the only other power-up available to pick up is a bomb pizza item that sends you into a frenzy for a few seconds.
Additional Features: As is to be expected, the arcade release is limited in its options; you can play with up to four other players both on- and offline and try to out-do your last high score, but there’s not much else on offer beyond playing through this awesome game as a different character. The SNES version might have taken a graphical hit but actually boasts a few interesting additional features: you can go head-to-head against a friend in versus mode, take on three courses in a time trial mode, pick from three difficulty settings (with different continues and endings assigned to each), set your maximum number of lives, and enjoy the benefits of a sound test. You can also pick between two colour schemes, “Comic” and “Animation”, which gives the TMNT new colour palettes, which is a nice touch. Naturally, the Cowabunga Collection adds a number slew of extra features to the list, however; first, you’ll gain a 70G Achievement for finishing each game, you can use the Left Bumper to rewind, and use the Right Bumper to access save states and display options. The arcade version can be further enhanced with a level select, God Mode (which makes you invincible and allows one-hit kills on most enemies and bosses), the removal of the penalty bombs that kill you if you linger about, and the ability to activate the far harder “Nightmare Mode” and speed things up with Turbo Mode. The SNES version isn’t lacking in similar options, boasting a level select and additional lives, while also providing every boss with a helpful life meter. Even better, you’ll still get your Achievements even with these enhancements activated and you can again peruse a strategy guide, switch between the American and Japanese versions (with minimal differences that I could see), view the game’s box art and manuals, and even choose to simply watch the game play itself.
The Summary: There’s a reason Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time is remembered so fondly; it really was the quintessential TMNT videogame at the time, taking everything that was so good about the original arcade release and expanding on it with larger, more varied stages and far more interesting boss battles. While the gameplay remains very much the same and there’s a distinct and disappointing lack of power-ups, the game is much more enjoyable than its predecessor, offering more enemies and more visually interesting environments to battle through. The SNES release, while noticeably lacking in visual and audio quality, is a surprisingly faithful recreation of its arcade counterpart; sporting some nifty additional features and new levels and bosses, it’s easy to see why it was a must-have game for the system back in the day. The Cowabunga Collection only adds to the appeal of both games, offering numerous quality of life options to make gameplay a breeze and preserving these two classic arcade beat-‘em-ups for a whole new generation. There may be better beat-‘em-up titles out there, with more gameplay variety, more power-ups, and more options available, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles videogames didn’t get much better than Turtles in Time when it was released and it’s a joy to see it more readily available so others can experience the fast-paced, action-packed pick-up-and-play thrill of these simplistic brawlers.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Did you ever play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time out in the wild? How do you think it compares to other TMNT videogames and similar arcade fighters? Did you own the SNES version? If so, what did you think to the new levels and bosses and were you impressed with the conversion from the arcade original? Which of the characters was your go-to and which of the game’s bosses was your favourite? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? Which of the four Turtles is your favourite (and why is it Raphael?) Whatever your thoughts, I’d love to hear your memories of Turtles in Time down in the comments or on my social media!
The first issue of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) was published in May of 1984. Since then, the TMNT have gone on to achieve worldwide mainstream success thanks not only to their original comics run but also a number of influential cartoons, videogames, and wave-upon-wave of action figures. This year, I’m emphasising third entries and time travel shenanigans in the popular franchise every Tuesday in May!
Released: 30 August 2022 Originally Released: 25 November 1993 Developer: Digital Eclipse Original Developer: Konami Also Available For: Game Boy, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S
The Background: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were almost unrivalled in popularity back in the late-eighties and early-nineties; known as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles here in the UK, the “Heroes in a Half-Shell” dominated an entire generation with their comics, cartoon, extensive toy line, and videogames. Konami’s efforts not only proved a hit at arcades but also took 16-bit gamers by storm and helped to make Nintendo a household name in the UK. Additionally, Konami produced three handheld TMNT titles for Nintendo’s ground-breaking portable console, the Game Boy; though restricted by the Game Boy hardware, the firsttwo games impressed in their ambition and even tried to incorporate elements from the arcade releases. However, for this third game, Konami chose to completely overhaul not just the graphics and gameplay, but the genre too; unlike the previous two handheld efforts, Radical Rescue was a “Metroidvania” title with a heavy emphasis on exploration rather than mindless brawling. This resulted in mixed reviews, with some criticising the decision due to the Game Boy’s hardware being insufficient for such a genre and others praising the genre shift as a means to improve upon its predecessors. Either way, Radical Rescue remained a Game Boy exclusive title for nearly thirty years before it was finally re-released in the 2022 Cowabunga Collection alongside a host of other TMNT games and quality of life features.
The Plot: When their arch-nemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, strikes again by kidnapping their master and father-figure, Splinter, the TMNT leap into action one turtle short. Now Michelangelo must venture into the Shredder’s hazardous mine to rescue his brothers, and their master, and put a stop to their enemy’s latest scheme.
Gameplay: As mentioned, Radical Rescue is a 2D adventure game with a heavy emphasis on exploration as much as combat; it thus falls under the “Metroidvania” banner and will have you constantly consulting a barely useful grid-like map to discover new paths and areas to explore in your quest to locate the other TMNT. This means that, unlike every other TMNT game I’ve ever played up to this point, you can’t select a character from the start; instead, you’re stuck with Michelangelo and must defeat bosses to acquire keys to free his brothers and then hunt down key cards to access new areas, using each turtle’s unique skills to get past enemies and obstacles. Each turtle controls the same; you use X to attack and A to jump and press X while jumping to do a flying kick. Unlike in the TMNT’s last two Game Boy outings, you can neither throw shurikens or perform a slide kick with down and X, though you can toss shuriken when climbing ladders and you’re able to switch to one of the other turtles at any time from the pause menu and each one not only has their signature weapons but comes with different abilities to get past hazards and access new areas of Shredder’s diabolical mine. Mikey actually ends up being one of the most useful characters; I found myself defaulting back to him a lot as he can perform a helicopter-like glide with his nunchakus when you press and hold A while jumping, which is great for drifting past spike pits or reaching out of the way platforms.
While I can’t be certain, I’m fairly sure that the game forces you to rescue each of Mikey’s brothers in a specific order; I definitely found myself following a particularly path but then my logic was based simply on going for whichever boss and key card was closest to where I was. Thus, the first turtle I rescued was Leonardo, who’s given the bizarre ability to burrow through certain blocks by pressing down and A, effectively turning him into a living drill. Next, I rescued Raphael who can pop into his shell with down and A to pass harmlessly over spikes (until you inevitably have to jump up to a platform) and through small gaps and tunnels; this also makes him immune to certain attacks, which is helpful. Finally, I rescued Donatello, who can cling to and scale walls by jumping at them, which is basically required to access the final areas of the mines. Naturally, each turtle has their own strengths and weaknesses in combat, with Raph and Mike limited in their reach compared to their brothers, but I found myself favouring Mike since there’s more emphasis on jumping than any of the turtle’s other abilities. Every time you defeat a boss, your health will be fully restored, which is useful; rescuing a turtle (and, later, Splinter) grants you a password that you can jot down from the pause screen to continue if you fail in your quest, but your main enemy here will be trying to find your way around the mine and surviving its mechanical trap rooms.
Radical Rescue all takes part in one large interconnected map; you start on the outside of the main area and venture out here a couple of times to reach other otherwise inaccessible parts of the mine, and will go through doors (either using a key card or passing through from a certain direction) to enter mechanical areas where a boss lurks. These areas, and the mine itself, and crawling with respawning enemies and numerous hazards; we’ve got falling boulders, spike pits, wall lasers, bursts of flame, ceiling spikes, Foot Soldiers trying to run you down in giant mine carts, and extremely annoying bubble-like projectiles that clog up the screen and follow you incessantly. The Cowbunga Collection allows you to activate “helpful map icons” and I’d definitely recommend doing this; it doesn’t help the basic nature of the map but it’s useful to know that you’re heading to a boss, key card, or captive in need of rescue. This will serve you well when it comes to exploration; naturally, you’re somewhat limited in how far you can go in the mines when you only have one or two turtles on hand but, when you have them all, it’s very easy to get turned around because the map is so simplistic and many of the game’s environments all look the same. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to locate a captive turtle but not have a key or to run into a door that requires a key card you haven’t gotten yet, or to have to backtrack halfway across the map to get an item you require. Once you get used to the map and have all four turtles rescued, exploration gets a little easier; you can take shortcuts by climbing or digging down certain areas, for example, but a quick travel system to the four compass points of the map would’ve been much appreciated.
Graphics and Sound: To be fair, Radical Rescue is a step up from the TMNT’s last two Game Boy titles. Sprites are smaller now, but actually benefit from it; you get more screen space to work with and the game runs much smoother by default. As a trade-off, though, the game’s taken a step back in some areas; Leo and Raph only hold one of their weapons again, there are no idle animations, and the common Foot Soldiers simply wander about the place. However, the TMNT are far more versatile this time around; their new abilities help them to be more unique and offer up some new ways to play and some new animations and the boss sprites are far bigger and more visually interesting. Additionally, the story cutscenes are the best yet for a TMNT Game Boy title; text and large sprite art are used to convey the general plot and whenever you rescue an ally and, while these barely contain any frames of animation, they’re much more detailed than in the previous games.
The game’s music isn’t bad, either; while sound bites are at a minimum this time around, Radical Rescue still features a pretty good version of the classic TMNT theme and each area of the game has different music associated with it. However, where the game falters, for me, is in the variety of its presentation; while it’s nice to not be ploughing through the sewers, streets, and Technodrome again, I question the logic of setting the entire game in a drab, repetitive mine. Sure, there are ladders, lanterns, and some different rocky formations here and there but the Game Boy simply isn’t powerful enough to make this large and boring environment visually interesting. When you’re outside, it’s a different story; the background is still quite plain and generally just shows clouds or mountains, but it’s a nice change of pace from rocks and shit. The mechanical areas do help to break things up as well, but these all look and feel the same as well; it’s way too easy to get lost because most of these areas are largely indistinguishable from each other. I think it would’ve helped to theme them after the elements; have one take place under water or covered in snow, one have more lava pits and fire hazards, maybe implement a wind theme…anything but the same screens over and over. In this way, while Radical Rescue is easily the biggest and most involved of the TMNT’s Game Boy adventures, it also paradoxically feels the least innovative because it’s just not very engaging to plod from one dark cave to one mechanical hellscape and back again.
Enemies and Bosses: As is to be expected, the Shredder’s Foot Soldiers are all over the place. Unlike in the TMNT’s last two Game Boy games, they’re a little bit more competent here; they mostly just wander around but the greater emphasis on horizontal and vertical exploration means they’re often in awkward places and the fact that they constantly respawn can make traversal a bit difficult at times. The Foot Soldiers will toss grenades at you (which you can destroy), wield pickaxes, and fly overhead with jetpacks to drop bombs on you, as well as try to run you down in large mine carts. You’ll also encounter little laser firing spider-like robots, these weird rock-like humanoids, and mechanical frog-like enemies that hop about and fire at you. Traditional TMNT enemies like Mousers and Roadkill Rodneys are absent here, replaced by swooping bats and an abundance of environmental hazards, such as homing missiles and spikes. Another area where Radical Rescue is a step back from its predecessors is its bosses; the game boasts only five boss battles, with all but one being some of the TMNT’s more obscure enemies (at least for me). Each one sports a health meter and each boss fight takes place in an enclosed arena that’s ripped right out of the Mega Manseries (Capcom, 1987 to present).
The first boss I thought was Scratch, who jumps about, swipes at you up close, and hurls a ball and chain at you from a distance. Scratch very much sets the standard for Radical Rescue’s bosses in that they have quite large hit boxes, deal quick, heavy, and nigh-unavoidable damage up close, and you need to get into a bit of a rhythm to land an attack; rather then simply tank through their hits and whittle their health down, it’s better to keep your distance and play things smart, something that serves you well in the fight against Dirtbag. This mining mole dashes at you with a super annoying uppercut and swipes with his pickaxe, but will also leap into the air and stun you if you’re touching the ground when he is. It’s pretty hard to avoid him as he always aims to land on top of you, so you need to jump away and then quickly double back to hit him and then jump away again to avoid taking damage. I was probably getting the hang of the game by the time I fought the Triceraton as he actually seemed a bit easier; for this fight, stay out of his crosshairs and avoid the lighting bolt he fires out while being mindful of his charge attack, but otherwise he’s not too dissimilar from the Rocksteady and Bebop bosses of previous TMNT games.
Lastly, you’ll battle with Scale Tail, probably the most difficult of the four main bosses; Scale Tail lashes at you with his tail when you’re up close and spits a projectile at you that becomes a plume of fire. If you manage to avoid this, the snake will try to blow you into the hazard, though this is actually your best chance to attack him providing you can fight against the rush of air and avoid taking damage from his large hit box. After battling through the hazardous final section of the game, you’ll have to fight all four bosses again, one after the other, with no health items or reprieve between each bout! While this is easily one of the laziest gameplay mechanics of any game, I actually found the bosses a little easier the second time through, probably because I was more aware of their attack patterns and had a tried-and-tested strategy in mind for beating them. After defeating them all again, you’ll get to take on “Cyber Shredder” in a two-phase boss battle where he gets a whole new health bar after the first round while you get nothing, making for easily the toughest segment of the game. Shredder flies across the screen with a knee attack, levitates overhead and spams a diving kick, throws kicks at you up close, and launches an orb-like projectile that becomes a plume of fire. In the second phase of the fight, these flames are bigger, the Shredder gains an aerial projectile, and his attacks become faster and more aggressive.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: Unfortunately, despite being a Metroidvania adventure, Radical Rescue doesn’t offer anything that new in terms of pick-ups and power-ups. Each turtle acts as a power-up in a way, offering new traversal options, but the best you’ll hope for in any tangible way is the odd slice of pizza dropped by defeated enemies to refill your health. Two new aspects though, are the ability to pick up and store a whole pizza, which will replenish your health bar when it’s drained (a literal lifesaver in boss rooms) and the ability to permanently extend your health bar by picking up hearts hidden throughout the game.
Additional Features: Another way Radical Rescue is a bit of a step back is the lack of any in-game options; there are no difficulty settings here, no bonus games, and the only real option available to players is to continue their progress with the password system. When playing the Cowabunga Collection, you’ll net a sweet 70G Achievement for completing the game; you can also check out the game’s box art and manuals, switch between the Japanese and American version, apply various borders and display options (including an LCD display to recreate the feeling of playing on the Game Boy’s eye-watering screen) and make use of a strategy guide for some helpful tips. While the only enhancement on offer is to activate helpful map icons, you can still rewind the game with the Left Bumper and access save states using Right Bumper, both of which are incredibly helpful during the game’s trickier platforming and boss sections.
The Summary: I was completely caught off-guard by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue; I was not expecting it to be this sprawling Metroidvania-style game and it took me some time to come to terms with the dramatic genre shift compared to the more action-oriented TMNT games I’ve played. That’s not to say there’s a lack of combat here; you’ll still be busting plenty of heads, but the emphasis is much more on exploration, back-tracking, and thinking about how to get past obstacles and progress to new areas. In some ways, this is much appreciated; the game is surprisingly big, definitely offers something different from the TMNT’s usual games, and I liked that the TMNT each had their own abilities to help differentiate them. While I appreciate that it’s offering something different, it’s pretty tough to find your way around the repetitive environments and I’m unimpressed by the mine setting, as large as it is. There was also little incentive for me to switch between turtles, the bosses were unnecessarily troublesome at times, the inclusion of a boss rush was beyond lazy, and I don’t think the enemies, environments, or bosses really captured the depth of the TMNT license. Still, the gameplay wasn’t bad and it’s clear that Konami had finally come to grips with the Game Boy’s capabilities by this point so it’s probably worth another go-around as long as you play this version of the game, with all the handy features to get around its more frustrating aspects.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
Did you have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue in your Game Boy library back in the day? What did you think to genre shift towards exploration and Metroidvania mechanics? Which character’s ability was your favourite and which one did you play as the most? What did you think the the game’s presentation and the boss battles? What’s your favourite Metroidvania title? Whatever you think about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue, feel free to share them in the comments below or leave your thoughts on my social media.
The first issue of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) was published in May of 1984. Since then, the TMNT have gone on to achieve worldwide mainstream success thanks not only to their original comics run but also a number of influential cartoons, videogames, and wave-upon-wave of action figures. This year, I’m emphasising third entries and time travel shenanigans in the popular franchise every Tuesday in May!
Released: 30 August 2022 Originally Released: 12 December 1991 Developer: Digital Eclipse Original Developer: Konami Also Available For: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S
The Background: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles here in the UK) were the in thing for kids like me back in the eighties or nineties thanks, largely, to the popularity of its influential cartoon and extensive toy line. After helping to define the term “NES Hard” with their original, incredibly successfulTMNT title for the NES, developers Konami turned to the equally popular arcade game for the sequel, which proved to be a hit thanks to its ambitious recreation of its far superior arcade counterpart. By the end of 1991, Konami had mastered the art of bringing the TMNT to the arcades with the smash titleTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time(Konami, 1991), which also took 16-bit gamers by storm with its home console port. NES players weren’t forgotten in this time, however, with this 8-bit expansion of the previous NES title being critically lauded despite it never actually being released in the United Kingdom. Although TMNT III: The Manhattan Project was never ported or re-released to other consoles or digital services, the 2022 Cowabunga Collection remedied that for modern gamers by including it alongside many other TMNT games and quality of life features
The Plot: While vacationing at the beach, the TMNT leap into action when their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, kidnaps April O’Neil and hijacks the entire borough of Manhattan, turning it into a floating island and daring them to challenge him.
Gameplay: If you’ve played any of the TMNT’s arcade efforts, especially Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (ibid, 1990), you’ll be immediately familiar with the controls, features, and gameplay of The Manhattan Project. As in those titles, the game allows up to two plays to pick from one of the four titular turtles and battle their way through waves of enemies in a variety of locations, many of them drawing from tried and tested environments such as the sewers and the Technodrome. The Manhattan Project offers two options for two players, one that allows friendly fire to be activated for an extra level of difficulty and one that disables it so you can play like a normal person. The controls couldn’t be simpler; you press X to attack and A to jump, with your chosen turtle pulling off a mid-air kick when you press X when jumping. Each turtle control exactly the same and is defined primarily by their colour scheme and the range of their weapon, with Raphael at an obvious disadvantage and Donatello having a longer reach. You can toss enemies overhead by pressing down and X, which seems to do greater damage, or pull off a power attack at the cost of some health by pressing X and A together. Each turtle has their own power move, with Michelangelo performing a handspring kick, Donatello barrelling across the screen in a cannonball, Leonardo flying into a sword cyclone, and Raphael performing an M. Bison-like torpedo attack, but I found actually getting them to execute these power modes to be surprisingly unreliable since all you have to do is press two buttons together.
Overall, gameplay and combat is basically exactly the same as in the previous NES title and naturally lacks some of the additional animations and options seen in the superior 16-bit titles, with no dashing, elaborate combos, or throwing options available to you, but as a simple pick up and play arcade brawler it does the job pretty well for those who were stuck with the NES. Additionally, gameplay is once again mixed up slightly with a sidescrolling chase sequence in Scene 2 that sees you slashing across the ocean on a surfboard; there are also times when you’re asked to travel diagonally and where you can jump up to a higher level to avoid certain hazards. As ever, the TMNT need to watch out for holes and barrels, which will squash them flat, and new hazards like explosive pipes in the sewer and conveyor belts on the floor of the Technodrome, though you can switch to a different character when you run out of health. The Manhattan Project also includes an elevator section, as is the staple [https://www.digitiser2000.com/main-page/10-weird-rules-for-every-scrolling-beat-em-up] of any good beat-‘em-up, with this one taking you up the outside of a skyscraper like it’s Street of Rage (SEGA, 1991), but also includes some unique fighting stages that in themselves act as hazards. You’ll be fighting on top of a submarine, on a bridge strewn with holes, and on the aforementioned lift; in these areas, you need to be careful not to jump or be hit into the water or down the gaps as it’ll cost you some health. However, you can awkwardly manipulate your enemies into falling to their deaths in your place and, if you simply walk near the edge, you’ll hang on rather than simply slipping off as in most 2D games from this era.
Graphics and Sound: On the surface, The Manhattan Project really isn’t all that much different from the TMNT’s last NES title; however, the environments and overall presentation is far better. For starters, the game ambitiously recreates the cartoon’s iconic opening sequence and the game even includes a few sound bites here and there to evoke its technically superior arcade and 16-bit counterparts. While TMNT’s sprites don’t seem to be all that different, they have been tweaked a bit: Leonardo now holds two katana, for example, and there’s some animation on Donatello’s bo staff as he walks; even their idle animations have been expanded a little bit to include foot tapping and such. Although you can again remove the slowdown and sprite flickering, these elements are still somewhat present, with the same minor screen tearing and the screen still struggling to scroll properly; you’ll find yourself walking right at the edge of the screen and needing to hop back to get things moving less jerkily. The enemies are a little more diverse this time around; not only do they pop up from manholes, out of the water and sand, and from behind parts of the environment, but Foot Soldiers will scurry down poles, burst out of vehicles, and your turtle can get blinded by gas and sand this time around.
Environments are much improved over the TMNT’s last NES game; though still a far cry from the arcade and 16-bit titles, there’s much more detail, colour, and even a bit of animation here and there (such as the tide coming in on Scene 1). This is best seen in the Technodrome stage, which is far more visually interesting than before, and in the sewer, where you now cross through waist-high water rather than just being in a simple brick environment. There are some new stage types on offer here, such as the beach that opens the game and includes a pier, the aforementioned submarine, and even generic stages like the bridge are spruced up with large holes to avoid. Perhaps the most impressive environments are the subway, where enemies will jump out of subway trains, and those set on the rooftops of the floating city as you can see skyscrapers and other buildings in the background. Cutscenes and music are much improved this time around as well, with the TMNT transitioning between stages on their blimp more sprite art, voice samples, and speech bubbles being included, and even the heads-up display has been changed up to give it a more distinct visual identity.
Enemies and Bosses: As ever, your most persistent enemies will be the robotic Foot Clan and their many variants; these guys will toss large shuriken at you (though you can deflect these with you weapons), burst up from the ground, blast at you from hovercrafts, hover about on floating discs, wield whips, and ride around on large rolling balls. The Foot also toss balls and weights at you to squash you, attack with swords, toss daggers in a spread, throw lances and boomerangs at you, and you’ll find two working in tandem to fry you to your shell with an electrical beam. The Rock Warriors are also back, though thankfully without their annoying charge attack; now, they still fire machine guns and heavy ordinance but can also temporarily stun you with gas grenades and send you flying across the screen with a swing of a girder! Robots also dog your progress, with flying bugs diving at you in a kamikaze run, humanoid robots firing projectiles at you, spider ‘bots dropping from the ceiling as rocks, and Mousers clamp down on your hands.
As The Manhattan Project is a much bigger and longer game than the TMNT’s last outing on the NES, you’ll have to contend not only with a few more bosses but also a mini boss or two, all of whom come complete with a helpful life bar and will be immediately familiar both to fans of the franchise and anyone who’s played any of the TMNT’s arcade outings. As is often the case in these types of TMNT games, the first boss you’ll fight is Rocksteady and he’s not really changed his attack pattern up all that much; in addition to kicking and punching you when you’re up close and charge at you from a distance, he comes armed with a harpoon gun to launch projectiles your way. The second boss, Groundchuck, represents not just a rare venture into different villains but also an increase in difficulty as he charges around the screen erratically and swings a pipe at you after you deliver enough damage to him. Halfway across the bridge, you’ll get attacked by my favourite TMNT villain, Slash; this dark turtle jumps about the place, spins around on his spiky shell, and (appropriately) slashes at you with his jagged sword. He’s merely an appetiser for Bebop, who now comes equipped with a spiked mace that he twirls over his head and whips at you in a horizontal line. Down in the subway, you’ll fittingly do battle with Dirtbag, who comes rolling in on a mine cart and fires rings from his miner’s helmet; although he also wields his trademark pickaxe, he leaves himself wide open for an attack when it gets stuck in the ground.
When you reach the end of the sewers, you’ll have to fend off the Mouther Mouser mini boss (a Foot Soldier on a larger Mouser who spits out fireballs and smaller Mousers) before finding yourself on a narrow path surrounded by rising water and once again doing battle with Leatherhead, who not only whacks at you with his tail but also fires a shot gun spread your way. Rahzar and his ridiculously disproportionate head is the mini boss of the Technodrome and again charges at you, swipes with his claws, and can freeze you into a block of ice with his spit. Defeating him sees you facing off with the Shredder, with April held hostage nearby; a cheap spam artist who can kick you clear across the screen, the Shredder slashes with his sword and has a devastating throw, but is thankfully lacking in his de-evolution powers this time around. Tokka attacks you on the rooftop; carrying a shield to block your flying attacks and able to uppercut you into the electrifying neon sign in the background, Tokka also likes to take a bite out of your face and punch at you. The Mother Mouser reappears on Krang’s ship, which is also where you’ll naturally battle Krang; again, his sprite leaves a lot to be desired but he’s a bit tougher this time around thanks to the electrical hazard in the arena, his rocket punch, missile barrage, and tendency to electrify his body while taunting. Krang can also split his android body into two, with his torso floating about firing eye beams at you as his legs stomp about trying to kick you. You’ll immediately face Super Shredder after this fight; Super Shredder can teleport and dash about, send you flying with a swipe, summon a lightning strike and even turn you into an ordinary turtle with a fireball…although this is now a temporary ailment rather than an instant death move.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: Unfortunately, The Manhattan Project doesn’t expand on the available pick-ups in any way; the only power-up you’ll find here are the all-too-rare instance of some health-restoring pizza, which is a bit of a shame considering Turtles in Time had added a new power-up item.
Additional Features: There aren’t any in-game options available to you in The Manhattan Project beyond picking between the two different two-player options unless you enter the legendary “Konami Code”. This means that your only options for replay here are to pick a different turtle or play with friendly fire on and off rather than setting different difficulty levels. The Cowabunga Collection does offer some additional features, however; first, you’ll earn yourself a respectable 70G Achievement for completing the game and you can the game’s box art and manuals, switch between the Japanese and American version, apply various borders and display options, and listen to the game’s soundtrack. The enhancements also allow you to remove slowdown and sprite flicker, allow for “easy menu navigation” (which I found no use for), and offer a super useful infinite lives and an easy mode if you’re struggling. Finally, you’re still about to rewind the game with the Left Bumper, access save states using Right Bumper, and watch the game play itself if you fancy it.
The Summary: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project isn’t much compared to its arcade and 16-bit counterparts, for sure; it’s undeniably graphically inferior, the sound and music isn’t anywhere near as clear, and the gameplay and combat remains restrictive and clunky thanks to the limitations of the NES. However, it’s quite obviously a step up from the TMNT’s previous outing on the NES; not only are the sprites a little more alive, the environments are far more detailed and the game is almost double the length of its predecessor, meaning that it’s a pretty decent 8-bit alternative to the likes of Turtles in Time. It’s unfair to be too harsh on it considering the power of the NES simply can’t compete with its bigger brothers, but it’s a far more impressive effort that its predecessor and felt much more like a complete, concentrated effort rather than a downgraded port. The addition of mini bosses was a nice touch and I liked how the bosses had second phases or upped their attack strategies after you dealt enough damage. The cutscenes and story are far more impressive this time around, though the lack of additional options, power-ups, and gameplay mechanics keeps it from really being all it could be. Giving each turtle their own power move was a nice touch and I liked the additional animations and stage variety on offer here; in some ways, it’s like a remix and expansion of its predecessor, but it’s clearly the superior of the two so I had a pretty good time playing through this one.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Did Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project make it into your NES library back in the day? What did you think to the gameplay and presentation of the game, especially compared to its predecessor and arcade counterparts? Which character’s power move was your favourite and what did you think to the new bosses and mini bosses? What did you think to the new, longer stages and the additional tweaks made to the visuals? Did you play with the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? What’s your favourite NES game? Feel free to drop your opinions on the TMNT’s third outing on the NES in the comments section down below or share them on my social media.
Released: 7 April 2023 Director: Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic Distributor: Universal Pictures Budget: $100 million Stars: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jack Black, Charlie Day, Seth Rogen, and Keegan-Michael Key
The Plot: Struggling plumber brothers Mario (Pratt) and Luigi (Day) are sucked into the magical Mushroom Kingdom, where Luigi is captured by the nefarious King of the Koopas, Bowser (Black). To rescue him, Mario must embark on a quest with Princess Peach (Joy), whose people are threatened by Bowser’s perverted designs for her.
The Review: Unlike the vast majority of audiences, I actually didn’t mind the first Super Mario Bros. movie; sure, it had barely anything to do with the source material but adaptation is all about change and reconfiguring media into new forms. Plus, videogame adaptations weren’t exactly commonplace back then and the medium wasn’t exactly well renowned at the time, so it made sense to try and alter the admittedly bizarre source material into something a little more accessible and mainstream. Finally, I thought it was a perfectly fun action/adventure for kids, and the whole family, with some enjoyable performances and a great visual style, but it can’t be denied that the poor reception to the film pretty much soured Nintendo on ever trying something like that again. Luckily, Mario and their other characters lived on in animated ventures and comic books but Nintendo has such a rich and diverse library of characters that it’s a shame we don’t see more feature films based on their properties; I’m still waiting for a Lord of the Rings (Jackson, 2001 to 2003) or Willow (Howard, 1988) inspired outing for the Legend of Zelda series (Various, 1986 to present) and an epic sci-fi/action film based on the Metroid games (ibid, 1986 to present). So, yes, I was very excited to hear that Nintendo were finally getting back in the cinema industry and teaming up with Illumination for an all-CGI Super Mario Bros. movie. Illumination have done some really fun films in their time and seemed like a perfect fit for the franchise, and going all CGI just makes so much more sense than doing a live-action film or even a hybrid as then there are far less restrictions on what the filmmakers can do and the gap between the source material and the movie screen is suitably shortened as the mediums are much easier to compare.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie once again has the titular brothers be depicted as blue-collar plumbers operating out of Brooklyn, New York. Having recently quit the employ of the Wrecking Crew corporation and sunk their entire life savings in building a recognisable, independent brand for themselves, the Marios are struggling to make it on their own; their colourful extended family disapproves of their decision and Mario struggles with the constant belittlement he faces for daring to dream big. In an effort to establish himself and his brother as legitimate, Mario insists that the two try and save the city from being flooded and the two are subsequently separated when they’re sucked through a mysterious pipe while venturing into the sewers. Mario is deposited into the Mushroom Kingdom, a surreal land of fungus, floating blocks, and populated almost exclusively by diminutive mushroom men like Toad (Key). The excitable Toad offers to bring Mario to the kingdom’s benevolent matriarch, Princess Peach, to help him rescue Luigi, who they theorise has almost certainly been captured by Bowser. Awestruck by the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario insists on accompanying Peach on her mission to recruit the King army from the nearby Jungle Kingdom in a bid to defend her lands from Bowser’s forces. However, while she’s excited to meet another human, Peach also questions Mario’s stature and suitability for such a mission and demands that he complete a hazardous obstacle course and get to grips with the various power-ups that are scattered throughout the land. Though Mario struggles with this, a montage is used to show him improving bit by bit and learning the jumping, fighting, and survival skills he’ll need later in the movie; crucially, though, this montage and much of Mario’s character arc is focused on his never-give-up attitude. Even when he fails time and time again or is being pummelled by a physically superior foe, Mario never quits and keeps getting back up; it’s this attitude as much as his love for his brother that pushes him to overcome the various platforming challenges set before him, take life-threatening risks when racing along Rainbow Road, and even find the courage to challenge Donkey Kong (Rogen) to a battle in order to recruit the Kong’s aid.
While Mario lands in the Mushroom Kingdom and embarks on a wacky adventure filled with fun references to the videogames, Luigi is unceremoniously spat out into the dark lands, a nightmarish landscape filled with lava and patrolled by Bowser’s forces. Unlike his bold, daring older brother, Luigi is far more cautious and resorts to running from danger rather than facing it head-on like Mario. In a surprising twist, it’s not Princess Peach who is captured by Bowser and must be rescued; it’s Luigi, who is picked up by a group of Shyguy and summarily trapped in a cage above a lava pit to be sacrificed as tribute to the Koopa King’s would-be bride. Still, despite his terror, Luigi puts up a good effort in resisting Bower’s torture, though he’s left with no choice but to give up his brother’s name when the Koopa King rips at his moustache. It’s interesting that the filmmakers chose to separate the Mario Brothers for the majority of the film; the dynamic between the two is charming and relatable and they absolutely feels like two brothers who love each other and work well together. Luigi does thankfully get some time to shine in the finale, but he doesn’t get to try out any of the power-ups Mario does and is basically a hostage for the entire film. this means that it’s Princess Peach who acts as Mario’s primary partner throughout; sure, Toad is there as well to whip up some goodies and offer his unwavering support, but it’s Peach who teaches Mario about the world and the power-ups and with whom Mario bonds over his relationship with his brother. Princess Peach is depicted as a strong, courageous, and incredible capable matriarch and fighter; she can easily conquer the obstacle course that continuously defeats Mario, makes effective use of her dress and the various power-ups in a fight, and is definitely not a damsel in distress. While I feel like we could’ve seen this and had both Mario and Luigi accompany her on her quest, there focus is still firmly on the brothers’ bond and I definitely think Luigi will have more time to shine in a potential sequel.
Mario and Toad join Princess Peach as she travels (on foot, strangely) across the land to the Jungle Kingdom. Confident that she can sway the Kongs to join her cause after Bowser decimates the Penguin Kingdom and steals the fabled “Super Star”, Peach is initially prepared to travel alone but allows Mario and Toad to accompany her after being impressed by their heart. The Jungle Kingdom sports Aztec-inspired ruins, a life-threatening series of racetracks through the treetops, and is ruled over by Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen), a cantankerous old ape who knows that he commands the greatest army in the land and initially has no interest in offering his aid. However, when he suggests that he’ll be swayed if Mario can defeat his son, Donkey Kong, in a fight, Mario doesn’t hesitate to take the challenge despite having no idea of what’s awaiting him in the arena. A natural showboat and possessing both great strength and an ego to match, Donkey Kong delights in pummelling his outclassed foe and, even when eventually trounced by Mario in his cat form, refuses to openly admit defeat or let go of his grudge against the plumber after he and the other Kongs get to work building special karts for the heroes to use to get the Bowser. However, Mario and Donkey Kong manage to build a mutual respect for each other after Mario goes out of his way to save DK’s life and the burly ape returns the favour, resulting in them fighting side by side against Bowser in the finale. Although its only briefly touched upon, there’s a surprising amount of emotional depth to the grandstanding ape; he’s riled up by the suggestion that all he has to offer is his incredible strength and he and Mario bond over their mutual desire to prove to their fathers that they’re not a joke.
Naturally, the film’s primary antagonist is the half-dragon, half-turtle Koopa King, Bowser. Bowser and his minions (including Koopas, Goombas, Parakoopas, Bullet Bills, Shyguys, and Piranha Plants) travel across the land on a gigantic slab of molten rock and lava and easily lay claim to the Super Star with a minimum of effort. While Kamek’s (Kevin Michael Richardson) magic and aid is of much assistance to Bowser, the Koopa King cuts an intimidating figure all on his own; alongside possessing incredible strength and surprising speed, he’s able to bring entire kingdoms to his knees with his fire breath and is not above leaving his prisoners to dangle over a lava pit or sacrificing them to prove his love to Princess Peach. Indeed, Bowser’s entire motivation for stealing the Super Star was not to harness its power for himself, but to impress Peach and convince her to marry him so that they could conquer all the lands side by side. Though he’s a cruel and merciless ruler, Bowser is deeply insecure; when he learns that Mario is accompanying the princess, he grows increasingly jealous and enraged and he’s in constant need of pep talks from Kamek and his minions to help him find the courage to propose to Peach. Bowser even takes the time to compose a ballad for his beloved “Peaches” and has no desire to destroy her kingdom unnecessarily, though he threatens to do so and kill all of her people if she doesn’t agree to marry him. Although they don’t actually meet until the film’s finale, Bowser’s hatred for Mario is palpable since he views him not as a threat to his power, but a rival for Peach’s affections; he revels in the idea of immolating Luigi just to teach Mario a lesson and orders his troops to attack without mercy to intercept the heroes when they race along Rainbow Road. Here, Mario and the others encounter a particularly stubborn Koopa (Scott Menville) who delivers a decisive blow to the heroes by blowing up the Rainbow Road in his blue shell form, which allows all the Kongs to be captured and sees Mario and DK getting briefly swallowed up by a Maw-Maw before rocketing to Bowser’s domain to interrupt the ceremony at the film’s climax.
The Nitty-Gritty: When I saw the first full trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie, I was a little worried that the film might be trying to do too much: in addition to the main plot, we have a fight between Mario and Donkey Kong, a kart race, and all these other elements being thrown at us but, thankfully, the pace, execution, and balance of these sequences is absolutely spot on. Also, the film is absolutely stuffed to the brim with Easter Eggs, references, and little background details to not just the Super Mario franchise, but other Nintendo properties as well: Mario and Luigi frequent a pizzeria themed after Punch-Out!! (Nintendo R&D3, 1987), Mario plays Kid Icarus (Nintendo R&D1/Tose, 1986) after being upset by his father (Charles Martinet), the heroes pass by a herd of Yoshis on their quest, Diddy, Chunky, and Dixie Kong cameo during the fight between DK and Mario (which also includes various references to Donkey Kong(Nintendo R&D1, 1981) and a Jumpman-themed Donkey Kong knock-off is also seen in the Punch-Out Pizzeria), and we even get a flashback showing Baby Mario and Baby Luigi (though, in my opinion, the filmmakers missed a trick by not having Wario be the bully who picks on Baby Luigi). Music and sound effects from the games are also included in the film’s soundtrack to great effect Mario and Luigi star in a hilarious and catchy ad for their plumbing services that sees them adopt comically exaggerated Italian accents, and there are numerous times when the film switches to a side-on perspective to recreate the platforming action of the videogames.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a fun-filled action/adventure movie that’s full of visual gags, cartoonish humour, and a surprising amount of heart. The plot is simplicity at its best, but I fail to see how that’s a negative as the Super Mario games have never (or, at least, very rarely) showcased a deeper plot other than “rescue the princess”. Much of the humour comes from Mario’s struggles to adapt to the Mushroom Kingdom; he’s constantly being bashed about by the high-speed pipes, gets pummelled by Peach’s obstacle course, and is far less adept at holding onto his power-ups compared to the princess. Since he hates mushrooms, Mario is reluctant to devour the Super Mushroom but delights in being tall and super strong from its power; unfortunately, he’s so taken by this form that he falls victim to the shrinking Mini Mushroom in his fight with Donkey Kong, though he is able to make use of the cat and raccoon suits to best DK and keep Bowser’s gigantic Banzai Bill from destroying Peach’s castle. DK and Peach also get time to shine with the power-ups, making use of a Fire Flower and Ice Flower, respectively, when the wedding ceremony descends into all-out chaos. Mario’s fight with DK is a notable highlight; though overpowered and outclassed, Mario keeps getting back up and ultimately emerges victorious, leading to the Kongs building custom karts for him, Peach, and Toad. They, and the Kong army, take a shortcut along Rainbow Road to intercept Bowser and, when the Koopas give chase, we’re treated to a brief adaptation of the Mario Kart series (Various, 1992 to present) as characters toss banana peels and Koopa shells, switch to a glider and anti-gravity mode, and fire rockets at each other in a unexpectedly brutal race to the death. We even get a very brief underwater section where Mario and DK are trapped inside a Maw-Maw that, admittedly, is more there for dramatic effect and an obvious fake-out death, but it works to unite these two rivals for the finale. One last aspect I particularly enjoyed and didn’t see coming was the inclusion of the extended Mario family; since most of them delight in putting Mario down, they primarily act as a catalyst to push Mario into trying and fighting harder to prove that he’s not a joke.
Although Mario’s victory over Donkey Kong means the Kongs agree to join Princess Peach’s fight, the ape army is denied the chance to actually fight against Boswer’s forces as they’re left stranded on Rainbow Road or locked up in cages alongside Luigi and Bowser’s other captives. To spare her people, Peach agrees to marry Bowser but this is simply a ruse to get close to him; using an Ice Flower, she’s able to temporarily freeze the Koopa King and free his captives, with Mario swooping in at the last second in his raccoon suit to save Luigi from a gruesome fate. Enraged by the betrayal and defiance, Bowser orders a gigantic Banzai Bill be fired at Peach’s castle; though Mario is able to entice the weapon away, and into a warp pipe, the explosion causes a dimensional vortex that sucks them all into the streets of Brooklyn. There, an incensed Bowser targets Mario relentlessly and briefly sends him running before he’s inspired by his own advertisement and stands alongside his brother and newfound allies to battle Bowser. I was very happy to see Mario and Luigi team up for the finale after spending most of the movie apart; it really reinforced their bond and allowed them to share the spotlight rather than simply having Mario be the one to single-handedly stand against Bowser. Thanks to Princess Peach, the reunited Mario Brothers are able to grab the Super Star, which turns out to actually be a Starman power-up rather than a Power Star; this grants them temporary invincibility and superhuman abilities, allowing them to charge through Bowser’s minions and put a beating on the Koopa King, pummelling him in submission and force-feeding a Mini Mushroom to end his threat. In the aftermath, the city celebrates its heroes, and the Mario Brothers finally earn the respect of their friends and family, however they choose to stay in the Mushroom Kingdom and help rebuild the damage caused by Bowser’s attack.
The Summary: I had a good feeling about The Super Mario Bros. Movie right from the first announcement; each trailer just got me more excited for it as it really seemed to be a fun-filled, colourful adventure film that did justice to the source material and I still can’t get over the fact that people were more focused on unnecessarily targeting the casting, specifically Chris Pratt, than focusing on how good the film looked. You can count on one hand the number of times that the videogame cast have featured in an adaptation, so I really don’t understand the pushback against Chris Pratt, especially as he was perfectly fine in the role and his dynamic with Charlie Day went a long way to making the Mario Brothers a charismatic and relatable duo. For me, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is probably the best feature-film adaptation of a videogame (and I’m something of an expert in that field); it’s startling faithful to the source material, featuring a bevy of references and Easter Eggs for fans of the games as well as adapting the platforming action of the source material in a fun and visually engaging way. While it’s a shame that the brothers were separated throughout the film, their bond is at the heart of the story and they come together beautifully in the finale, and I loved that Princess Peach was a strong, independent character who could hold her own alongside Mario. Bowser was also a highlight; his comical buffoonery and swooning over Peach didn’t diminish his threat and it was great seeing Mario, Luigi, Toad, peach, and DK unite to stand against him. honestly, you couldn’t really ask for more from a Super Mario Bros. movie; it takes everything that made the games so popular and brings it to life as a thoroughly entertaining animated venture that’s only bolstered by the all-CGI presentation, the ideal format for these characters and their surreal adventures.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Did you enjoy TheSuper Mario Bros.Movie? How do you feel it compares to the live-action film and Mario’s animated adventures? What did you think to the casting and the performances in the film? Do you agree that going all CGI was the best way to bring the source material to life? What did you think to Princess Peach having a more proactive role and would you like to see Luigi get more of the spotlight in a potential sequel? What Easter Eggs and references did you spot? Which Nintendo franchise would you most like to see get a feature-film adaptation? Whatever you think, leave a comment below or on my social media and be sure to check out my other Super Mario content on my site.
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.
Story Title: “The Legend” By: George Caragonne, Art Nichols, Jade, P. Zorito, and Janet Jackson
Story Title: “Piranha-Round Sue” By: Bill Valley, Mark McClellan, George Wildman, Jade, P. Zorito, Janet Jackson
Story Title: “Koopa’s Believe It or Else!” By: John Walker, Ken Lopez, and Barry Goldberg
Story Title: “Cloud Nine” By: John Walker, George Wildman, Jade, P. Zorito, Andrea Brooks, and The Gradations
The Background: By the early 1990s, Nintendo’s mushroom-stomping mascot had firmly established himself as an icon not just in the videogame industry but in mainstream pop culture as well; with more than sixty videogames already released, and with Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo EAD, 1993) being a blockbuster release for Nintendo (and a major player in the on-going “Console Wars” between Nintendo and SEGA), merchandising and licensing opportunities naturally increased as Nintendo sought to capitalise on the portly plumber’s popularity. Between 1990 and 1991, Nintendo partnered with Valiant Comics to published comic book adaptations of some of their biggest and most successful franchises, and Super Mario was naturally at the forefront of this. Mario’s Valiant adventures were based not just on his videogame adventures, but also his depiction in the animated Super Mario Bros. Super Show! (1989), and Mario featured in a number of Valiant’s comics, either as the main character or in cameo roles.
The Review: Valiant’s Nintendo comics were basically like printed versions of their DiC cartoons and were short, slapstick, fun-filled adventures punctuated by advertisements both fake and real (mostly for videogames, other Valiant comics, and radical nineties toys and such). As a result, there are four stories contained in Mario’s debut issue, with two full length adventures and two interludes to pad out the comic, which was the style of many publications for younger kids as opposed to comics by DC and Marvel Comics, which generally had the one story contained in its page alongside ads and such. The first story is a two-page introduction to the general concept of the Super Mario Bros., their world, and their adventures; according to “The Interlude”, the magical Mushroom Kingdom was a peace-loving land of mushroom people until the evil King Bowser Koopa and his forces invaded the land and terrorised the kingdom’s patriarch, the Mushroom King, and his daughter, Princess Toadstool. Fortunately, their plight reached Mario and Luigi, two plumber brothers who “hungered for justice and thirsted for freedom” who heard the Princess’s cries for help through their pipes and…somehow (presumably by jumping in the pipes? It’s not made clear) journeyed to the Mushroom Kingdom with tools in hand to defeat Bowser, push back his troops, and rescue the Princess and then presumably stuck around for more adventures based on their experiences. The first story, “Piranha-Round Sue”, finds the Mushroom Kingdom being over-run by the titular piranha plants (leading to a somewhat amusing gag about the plants being “revolting”). The King doesn’t see this as nearly as much of a pressing issue as his current predicament; Koopa has randomly turned him into a chameleon and the King needs Mario and Toad to retrieve the Magic Wand to restore him. Quite how, where, and when this transformation took place isn’t established, but if you’re willing to overlook that then you’re probably willing to overlook the convenience of a Magic Wand only being located in the piranha’s headquarters in World One.
Although Mario’s exasperated by the King’s distracted nature, he is gifted a “Green Gecko Gem” that protects him (but not Toad…) from “only the strongest enemies” at the cost of them being unable to touch anyone else, and the two head out to get the wand. Almost immediately Toad gets left behind and Mario delights in being able to plough through Goombas without issue, allowing Piranha Sue to easily get into Toad’s ear and manipulate him into getting a hold of the Green Gecko Gem in the promise of a fleeting moment of power as King of the Mushroom Kingdom, but of course it’s a trap to get the gem into the hands of her fellow piranhas so they can be free of Koopa’s service. While Mario’s busy collecting Coins with reckless abandon, he stumbles upon the Magic Wand just randomly sitting under a rock and is startled to find Toad on the verge of going over a tumultuous waterfall and drowning in the water. However, Mario hesitates to act since he can’t touch Toad and doesn’t want to abandon the gem in case someone steals it, but finally drops both the gem and the wand when Piranha Sue drags the mushroom retainer under the water. Although Toad is saved, Piranha Sue swipes both items and instantly declares herself to be the new rule of the world; unfortunately for her, Koopa was just off panel and took offense to her declaration. Despite the gem covering her in a protective aura, Koopa is able to grab her in a strangle hold and reprimand her for her insolence and discards both items since he believes the gem is worthless and Mario swapped out the wand for a fake on Toad’s suggestion. Victorious, the two return to the castle and change the Mushroom King back to normal, though his subjects are dismayed to find he has developed a taste for flies.
The comic then shifts to a one-page fake infomercial, of sorts, “Koopa’s Believe It or Else!”, a series of random gags and panels that tell us such tall tales as “Koopa” meaning “Thing of beauty” in “lizard language”, stuffed plumber’s caps being a delicacy in the Mushroom Kingdom, the Mushroom King having over 2,000,000 crowns but only one pair of socks, and a gag about a plumber actually making a house call that’s lost on me since I’ve never experienced an issue with plumbers not coming when I call them out. Following this odd segue, the issue ends with another full-length story, “Cloud Nine”, which finds the Mushroom King aggravated to be woken up in a mood so foul that he chases his sentient alarm clock and dumps boiling hot water on Luigi’s crotch! The King complains that his bed is so lumpy and uncomfortable that he can’t sleep, so Mario and Luigi take him to a shop to purchase a new bed. The Marios are stunned to find the King unsatisfied with the shop’s selection as they’re too hard, too soft, too lumpy, and not lumpy enough, and so distracted by his erratic behaviour that they completely miss Koopa switching places with the shopkeeper. Any suspicions they might have about this shady new character are quickly forgotten when the shop (really Koopa’s minion, Pidget), announces a 100% off sale on all plumbing supplies, easily allowing Koopa to spirit the King up to the 2,927th floor to try out his “Cloud Nine” mattresses. Introduced to the “Cumulo-Nimbus Special”, the King instantly falls into a much-needed deep sleep and is unwittingly whisked away across the kingdom. In the middle of despairing over the King’s disappearance, Mario and Luigi spot the cloud bed flying overhead and give chase, though they’re unable to stop Koopa from framing the King for causing bed weather over the land. Eager to stop the King from tarnishing his reputation further, Mario and Luigi hop into a biplane and catch up to the slumbering King, with Mario using his plumbing tools to…fix the leak in the cloud…? and stop the rain. With the King well rested, his mood noticeably improves (though he still doesn’t have a new bed…) and he regales his subjects with a bizarre dream he had where the plumbers harpooned Koppa in the butt and had the biplane carry him out into the faraway Fungus Forest while the repaired cloud blasted him with lightning, bringing the story and the issue to a close.
The Summary: Super Mario Bros. #1 is a fun enough comic; it’s a pretty juvenile and slapstick series of adventures and gag strips that definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously and leans very heavily into puns, sight jokes, and kid-friendly cartoony situations. If you’ve ever watched an episode of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show! then you’ll be more than familiar with this sense of humour and presentation, which is a great way to capture the fantastical whimsy of the source material. When you think about it, Super Mario Bros. has always had a weird premise and an oddball sense of humour; fire-breathing turtle-dragons, sentient mushrooms, subjects being turned into blocks, and all kinds of weird power-ups and collectibles make this a light-hearted and fanciful world that’s clearly separate from ours. Like the cartoons, Valiant’s comics run with the idea that Mario and Luigi hail from Brooklyn and what we know was the “real world” and bring their plumbing expertise to the fantastical Mushroom Kingdom, making them hardworking, everyday heroes thrust into the roles of heroes in a magical world, which was also reflected in the animeand live-action movie and is a plot point that’s largely been ignored these days.
One thing I enjoyed about the comic was its juxtaposition of the surreal cartoon version of Mario with more traditional elements from the source material; Mario and Toad’s search for the Magic Wand is framed to resemble gameplay from the videogames, with cameos from Goombas, musical blocks, and even showing Mario grabbing a whole bunch of Coins and stuffing them into a bag so he can buy a new adjustable socket wrench set. Indeed, “Piranha-Round Sue” is the best story in the comic in terms of fidelity to the source material, with Mario utilising a power-up (one not seen in the game, but still…), his incredibly jumping prowess to hop over pipes and piranhas in his search for the Magic Wand, and he’s teamed up with Toad to evoke Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo R&D4, 1988). “The Interlude” is a similarly faithful recreation of the popular canon at the time and a summation of the first videogame, with Mario and Luigi trumping Koopa’s forces and even using the Fire Flower power-up (though without changing colours), and even “Cloud Nine” feature some call-backs to the videogames, such as the cloud-based stages, even though the story’s much more in line with the cartoons. Overall, I have a soft spot for Valiant’s Nintendo comics, especially their Super Mario Bros. publications as they reflect a different, far more whimsical time when adaptations just kind of did whatever they wanted as long as it was fun and entertaining for kids. The artwork, while a little sloppy and rushed at times (character dimensions and spatial awareness suffer a bit), perfectly reflects the Mario cartoons from the time and there were some fun moments that made me chuckle, so this was an enjoyable debut issue for the world’s most famous plumber brothers.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Have you ever read Valiant’s Nintendo comics, specifically their Super Mario Bros. publications? What did you think to them? Were you a fan of the comic continuing the slapstick nature of the cartoon and splicing in some references to the videogames? Are you glad that the franchise has slightly moved away from these depictions or do you miss when the Mario’s were plumbers from the real world? Did you read and collect Valiant’s Nintendo comics? If so, what were some of your favourite stories and moments in their publications? 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 Valiant’s Super Mario and Nintendo comics down below by signing up or on my social media, and thanks for being a part of Mario Month this year.
So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties.
Released: 11 January 2019 Originally Released: 18 November 2012 Developer: Nintendo EPD Original Developer: Nintendo EAD Also Available For: Nintendo Wii U (Standard Edition)
The Plot: Bowser, King of the Koopas, and his children (Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings) invade Princess Peach’s castle and hold her hostage, flinging Mario, Luigi, and two Toads far away. The portly plumber and his friends then resolve to travel across the land, defeating Bowser’s minions along the way, in order to rescue Peach and restore her castle to normal.
Gameplay: Like the classic Super Mario games of the bygone 8- and 16-bit days, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is a sidescrolling platformer but, in the style of the New Super Mario Bros. subseries, it’s a 2.5D title. The game allows up to four players to team up and travel across eight colourful, whimsical Worlds, hopping across platforms and on enemy’s heads in their quest to defeat Bowser’s minions. Each of the five playable characters controls a little differently and has slightly different power-ups and mechanics tied to them, meaning that the game’s difficulty is directly tied to which character you pick (Mario is an all-rounder, for example, while Luigi has poor traction, and Nabbit cannot be harmed by any enemies, making him the default “Very Easy” mode of the game). Each character has their own set of lives, but shares any collectibles they find along the way, and you can easily revisit and replay previous Worlds with whichever character you like from the overworld screen and the submenu. As is also the style of these kinds of Super Mario games, the controls are as simple as you could want: by default, the A and B buttons allow you to jump and you can hold the X and Y buttons to run, though you can swap these two sets of controls around if you like. Jumping three times in succession, especially while running, will allow you to pull off a triple jump to reach higher areas. When jumping, you can kick off walls to wall jump higher or potentially save yourself from falling down a pit (though you’re just as likely to accidentally wall jump off a platform or block and die if you’re not careful), press down to perform a block-smashing butt stomp, or press A, B, L, or R to perform a little twirl for a bit of extra height. You can also climb up and down ladders, press down when on a slope to slide down and kick any enemies out of your path, and tap the jump buttons when underwater to swim along. X and Y can also be used to hold certain items or characters, such as a Koopa shell or a Baby Yoshi, and you can release the button to throw these at enemies or to collect out of reach Coins.
Jumping, however, remains your primary method of attacking enemies; with well-timed jumps, you can clear gaps and entire sections of the game using the triple jump and gaining extra height by bouncing off an enemy’s head, but it pays to not be too complacent as some enemies either can’t be defeated by jumping on them or will hurt you if you try. Similarly, other enemies can only be dispatched by jumping at the blocks or platforms beneath them to either knock them off or tip them over, and you’ll also want to make use of the game’s many different power-ups and suits to help take out enemies faster. By default, each character begins the game with five lives and in their base form; this means that one hit will kill you, so be sure to search out a Super Mushroom or similar power-up as soon as possible to gain an extra hit point. When playing as Toadette, the Super Crown will transform her into “Peachette”, allowing her to float and double jump just like Princess Peach is known to do, while Nabbit doesn’t actually power-up from any of the items (but is immune to damage to compensate). When playing, you’re battling against a time limit, which alerts you when it counts down to the last 100 seconds and speeds the game’s music up accordingly to help push you forward. As if this, and the high number of hazards and projectiles you’ll eventually face, wasn’t bad enough, you also have to keep an eye out for the bevy of bottomless pits, which eventually expand to cover the majority of the ground in later Worlds. Handy checkpoints placed within Worlds will power you up and allow for a respawn point, but you still get kicked out of the World and have to manually re-enter, in your base form, to try again. Fail enough times and a “Super Guide” block will appear to help show you how to succeed, but the World will be flagged as incomplete until you finally reach that flagpole unassisted by this mechanic. Your main objective, unsurprisingly, is to head to the right of the screen, jumping over pits, hopping to platforms and blocks, and taking out any enemies in your way to reach the flagpole. Along the way, you’ll contend with such hazards as fog-spewing clouds, rising and falling platforms, swaying mushrooms, giant toppling heads, cannons, temporary platforms, and plumes of both water and sand.
While gameplay is, by the nature of its presentation, quite linear, there are opportunities for exploration; paths are hidden behind the background, leading to Coins and blocks, you can spawn vines to reach upper platforms, and you can enter pipes to explore underground areas, again usually for Coins or to find one of the three Star Coins hidden in each World. Sometimes, you can wall jump beyond the boundaries of the screen to take shortcuts or reach Secret Exits, which create new paths (or bypass Worlds entirely) on the overworld map so you can reach the Koopaling’s castle for that World. Some Worlds feature autoscrolling sections, either horizontally or vertically, that force you to stay on the move to keep from being crushed or boiled by rising lava, and, after clearing World 2, the game will ask you to choose a path to tackle either World 3 or World 4 (though you can, and absolutely should, backtrack to play both of these Worlds regardless). These Worlds add a new wrinkle to the overworld map in the form of the haunted locations (usually mansions, but there’s a shipwreck, too) infested with Boos. Boos will only advance towards you when your back is turned, and these stages tend to feature confusing door mazes, temporary platforms formed by hitting P Switches to turn Coins into blocks, and light-based mechanics where you need to carry a Baby Yoshi to light the way and scare off Boos. Other Worlds favour tilting platforms, slippery ground, an abundance of pits and crushing hazards, and you’ll even find yourself jumping to and swimming in bubbles when progressing vertically through World 7. You’ll also have to watch out for bigger enemy variants, instant-death lava and poison, and weighted platforms that either require you to jump to keep them moving or will stop if too many enemies and items drift onto them. There’s a lot of fun, colourful variety on offer and your platforming and jumping skills will be progressively put to the test as you clear each World, with more and more hazards and gimmicks being thrown in your path; thankfully, the controls are tight and responsive enough to manage these, but it’s true that the jumping can tend to be a bit spotty at times and you can easily find yourself slipping off a platform or falling to your death when you didn’t mean to.
Graphics and Sound: I’d played New Super Mario Bros. before, so I was well aware of how great Mario and his Worlds look in 2.5D but New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is absolutely gorgeous to behold; Mario, Luigi, and their friends have never looked better in 2.5D thanks to the Switch’s high-definition graphics, with each of them sporting cute idle animations and victory poses when finishing a World. This emphasis on adorable character models and animations even carries through to the enemies, who still hop and dance to the jaunty themes playing in the Worlds to not only give you an opening to attack but also to allow you to better time your jumps or anticipate enemy movements. As is often the case, there’s no spoken dialogue in the game and the characters largely rely on gibberish and pantomime and simple cries of “Yahoo!” and “Oh, no!” to make their point, which is fine by me, though you will encounter non-playable Toads who will offer encouragement, power-ups, and challenge you to mini games in their houses. There can often be a lot happening on the screen at any one time, between the enemies, moving platforms, obscured paths, and projectiles, but everything pops out and has a discernible pattern and it’s simply a matter of skill and timing to overcome the obstacles in your way.
Similarly, the Worlds on offer here are just as vibrant and visually interesting as the character models; there’s a lot to see in the background and foreground, often to tease you into taking a risk on a hidden path or entice you into trying a different power-up to make a tricky jump. While the Worlds are pretty standard Super Mario fare, ranging from colourful fields to snowy landscapes and lava-ridden castles, there’s also some fun throwbacks to previous Mario games, like Soda Jungle (which features retracting vines, rotating logs over poisonous water, and enlarged enemies and blocks), and the haunted houses. You’ll also traverse a desert full of quicksand, shifting sand, and statues to jump from, a beach-front and coral reef where jets of water blast you along underwater, tricky jumps to chains and up and across the rocky landscape of the mines, and a whimsical but taxing trip through the clouds. Every World also features two castles, which adopt an ominous stone-and-magma aesthetic and feature crushing blocks, buzzsaws, and rotating platforms, and you’ll also have to endure a cannonball and Bob-omb filled obstacle course when whisked onto Bowser’s battleship.
Enemies and Bosses: The vast majority of the enemies you’ll encounter in New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe are returning baddies from previous other Super Mario videogames, such as the mushroom-like Goombas, green and red Koopas, Boos, Thwomps, Chain Chomps, Bullet and Banzai Bills (which are frequently invulnerable), Piranha Plants, and Monty Moles. Most of these are pretty harmless, wandering back and forth or in easily recognisable patterns, but they quickly fill up the screen in larger numbers and some of the more annoying enemies, like the Hammer Bros (and their fire, ice, and boomerang variants) and Dry Bones, can cause headaches with their arching projectiles and ability to respawn, respectively. Naturally, there are also some new enemies in the game as well, such as the squirrel-like Waddlewings (which often carry Super Acorns for your consumption), walrus-like Flipruses, the screen-filling Dragoneel, homing Targeting Teds, and the mischievous Nabbit, who steals Toad’s items and must be captured in a race against the clock in previous Worlds.
In addition to the seven bosses you’ll encounter, you’ll also have to contend with a couple of mini bosses along the way. Not only will your platforming skills be tested if you choose to go back and capture Nabbit (and you really should, if only to get him off the overworld and get his items), but six of the Worlds include a tower guarded by Boom Boom, a muscular Koopa who is afforded new abilities by Kamek as the game progresses. Primarily, Boom Boom will attack by flailing his pythons at you, either in a charge or a jumping, spinning attack, but he also grows in size and sprouts wings to dive down at you. While the arena you battle him in is often altered by cosmetic changes befitting the World (such as water and lava), the area you fight him in is never really a hazard and it’s actually beneficial to use the walls to get better height and bop him on the head three times, which is usually easier to do than with the Koopalings since Boom Boom doesn’t attack while protected by his shell. In World 6, the tower is defended by a Sumo Bro who is enlarged by Kamek; this hulking brute can’t be attacked from above and causes electrical shockwaves by stomping his feet, and can stun you with his jumps. To defeat him, you need to jump into the platform he’s standing on while beneath him to tip him onto his shell and then jump on his exposed belly three times to put him away. World 7’s tower is guarded by Kamek himself, who magically spawns in blocks containing enemies. You can hop around on these to try and jump on his head when he teleports in, but he’ll cause them to rain down and hurt you, or release their captives, and he also flings magical bolts at you that cause the ground to become temporarily unstable. Sticking to a set pattern and staying off the floor is your best chance at winning this battle, and it’s not too difficult to jump on his head when he teleports in nearby. You’ll also battle Bowser Jr. one-on-one twice in the game, once after clearing World 5 and then again after World 7. You need to traverse the cannons of Bowser’s battleship to reach him, and both battles are a little different. In the first, you’re underwater and must lure the Targeting Teds into his craft while avoiding the Bullet Bills that fire horizontally and vertically through the arena. The second battle is much tougher; you’re on a precarious metal-blocked platform and Bowser Jr. floats just out of reach, occasionally tossing Bob-ombs at you. His craft sports boxing gloves which can wreck and temporarily destroy the ground beneath you, or extend to shove you right off edge, but you can quickly hop on his head as he passes by or run up them to bonk him if you’re fast enough. Bowser Jr. also causes trouble in World 8, ramming into you, blocks, and platforms to try and hurt, kill, and force you into lava and also joins his father for the finale.
Before you can reach that climatic battle, however, you have to contend with the seven Koopalings, each of whom awaits after clearing a castle filled with death traps and hazards, and each of them will erratically spin at you in their spiked shells after you land a hit, which can be tricky to avoid. First up is Lemmy Koopa, who tosses progressively larger bombs at you, though you can hop onto these for an extra bit of hang time. Morton Koopa Jr. awaits in World 2 and knocks segments of a giant, caterpillar-like Pokey at you from across the arena that you need to jump over or duck under. This battle’s made a little tougher thanks to Morton shaking the ground with his stomps and the two gaping holes to a bottomless pit at either side of the platform, though you can use the walls to help avoid the Pokey projectiles. After this, you have a choice of your next destination; I chose to visit World 3 first so I battled Larry Koopa next; this pint-sized sucker fires bolts from his magic wand and can be tricky to hit thanks to the three water jets that burst up from the arena floor. The arena is similarly against you when you visit World 4, as Wendy Koopa skates about on the slippery ice and causes icicles to drop from the ceiling. The only way to reach Iggy Koopa is to find the Secret Exit in World 5; this leads you to one of the more troublesome boss battles as Iggy constantly runs away through the pipes, appearing on the floor and the ceiling, and fires bolts at you that can also cause up to two large Magmaarghs to pop up. His shell attack is also a pain as he’ll reverse direction, which can catch you off-guard and result in a hit, but once you figure out which pipe leads him to where you can anticipate his movements and hit him accordingly. Roy Koopa is a pretty simple and enjoyable fight; he fires Bullet Bills from a bazooka and hops up onto the stream of floating platforms to evade you, which means there’s a fall hazard in play here, but I found this the easiest boss of them all as you can just hop on his head, take the high ground, and instantly repeat without him getting off another shot. Finally, there’s Ludwig von Koopa, who hovers at the top of the arena, duplicating himself and filling the screen with diagonal projectiles that can be tough to avoid. Naturally, you need to hop on the head of the real Ludwig to score a hit, and the projectiles only increase with each successful blow.
Finally, after beating all the other Worlds and crashing Bower’s airship, you’ll dispel the dark cloud surrounding Peach’s Castle and tackle the final, most aggravating World of the game. The once lush and verdant castle has been transformed into a stony, lava-filled hellhole; flaming meteors fall from the sky, lava rises and falls beneath your feet, and you must not only cross the sea of burning magma on a raft but also watch out for Bowser Jr.’s attempts to crush and boil you alive. Succeed, and you’ll reach the final battle, which begins familiarly enough with you ducking under and jumping over fireballs spat by the Koopa King himself. When faced with Bowser, you’ll need to jump over or duck under his fireballs and quickly run underneath him to hit the switch and cause the bridge beneath him to collapse, but this is only the appetiser to the game’s true finale. Enlarged by Kamek’s magic and joined by Bowser Jr., Bowser battles you to the end on the castle rooftop, again spitting high and low fireballs and jumping about the place. To defeat him, you need to dodge Bowser Jr.’s Bob-ombs and hop on his head after avoiding his craft slam; you can then commandeer the Junior Clown Car with B, tapping B to hover over Bowser’s head, and then hit R to crash onto him. Like his kids, Bowser becomes a spinning dervish after he’s hurt and you’ll need to run under his shell when you get the chance to avoid being hurt or killed, and then dodge the rain of fireballs he spits into the air to repeat the same cycle over, dodging more Bob-ombs and fireballs as you go but, as long as you have at least a Super Mushroom and are mindful of your jumps and hit box, this shouldn’t be too difficult to do.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: Many of Mario’s most famous power-ups are here for the taking, including the Super Mushroom, 1-Up Mushroom (with extra lives also awarded with every 100 Coins you collect), Super Stars, and Fire and Ice Flowers. Super Stars are rare in the Worlds themselves but endlessly helpful as they make you invincible for a short time (and speed you up and add a nifty somersault to your jump) and successfully defeating a bunch of enemies in a row in this state will net you an extra life, but it won’t protect you from instant death hazards, unfortunately. The Fire and Ice Flowers let you shoot off a bouncing projectile with X or Y, with the iceballs temporarily freezing enemies to create platforms or allow you to throw them. Other power-ups include the Mini Mushroom, which grants you a moon jump, the ability to run up walls and enter tiny pipes, but costs you your ability to actually defeat enemies. POW Blocks will defeat all onscreen enemies, the aforementioned Super Crown lets Toadette become Peachette, and you can also hover through the sky with the Propeller Mushroom or slide along the ground or water (and fire off iceballs) with the Penguin Suit.
If you can knock Lakitu out of the sky, you can briefly take control of his cloud to fly over stages, and you’ll also come across the new Super Acorn power-up, which transforms you into a flying squirrel and allows you to glide, cling to walls, and perform an arch to gain a little extra height. You can also win P-Acorns from the various mini games which allow you to mid-air jump indefinitely, and you’ll find Yoshi eggs hidden in blocks throughout the game. Yoshis come in four styles, the regular green (which you ride as normal, using his tongue to eat and spit out enemies, chow down fruit for power-ups, and make use of his flutter jump to reach higher areas), and three Baby Yoshis: magenta (which swells up into a balloon to help you bypass hazards), blue (which spits out bubbles), and yellow (which can light up dark and/or haunted areas). Each of these baby Yoshis will also automatically eat up any enemies or projectiles that come your way and can be throw, but it’s usually better to keep them in hand. Every now and then, a Toad will offer you a power-up at the end of a World, and you can play mini games in their houses to collect Coins and earn more power-ups (though you’ll lose out if you get a Bowser tile), and you’ll also find power-ups on the overworld on occasion, too.
Additional Features: There are 246 Star Coins to find in New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, three in every World, and collecting them will really test your patience and platforming skills as they can be well hidden or hanging in precarious positions. When you finish the game as any character, you’ll unlock the ability to save at any time on the overworld (previously, the game saved after towers and castles and you could only create a one-time save point), the Secret Island (a kind of pointless overworld inclusion that lets you view the credits and various other in-game records, and the Superstar Road. This is where those Star Coins will come into play as you can unlock eight new challenge stages by collecting every Star Coin in each of the game’s other worlds, which is easier said than done. Accomplishing all this adds another Star Stamp to your save file, which allows you to brag that you’ve finished the game to 100%, though finishing the game as the other characters doesn’t factor into this achievement. There are also some alternative paths on the overworld beyond the Secret Exits where moving to certain points causes you to collide with enemies and be warped to a special challenge (usually involving the Super Star) or be automatically taken to different Worlds.
Being as it’s the most complete version of the game available, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe also features the New Super Luigi U content, which excises Mario from the playable roster, expands upon Luigi’s controls and physics to make him slippery and light as all hell, and reduces both the length and time limit of each World. Worlds are also full of references to Luigi, from statues to sprite work and silhouettes and an abundance of green, as well as being restructured into bite-size obstacle courses that will offer the greatest challenge of the game by far. With checkpoints gone and hazards everywhere, it’ll take every bit of skill and precision jumping to best this mode, which pushes you to use your triple jump, loose physics, and the game’s power-ups in new ways to bop off enemies, avoid death traps and hazards, and reach the goal flag. The game also offers a few additional challenge modes, including time trials and speed runs, Coin collections, and 1-Up collections, all of which deny you the use of power-ups, put you against a tough time limit and meeting criteria (like not touching the floor), and award you either a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Medal depending how well you do. Boost Rush allows you to take on rejigged versions of the World’s according to certain criteria (such as focusing on the balloon Yoshi, Penguin Suit, or Squirrel Suit) to nab Coins and speed up the tempo of the game and the enemies. Finally, you can go head-to-head against other players in Coin Battle, or put together your own courses using Coin Edit to challenge your friends, and all of the game’s modes can be played with other players, who will respawn in bubbles after losing lives.
The Summary: Although I’ve never had the greatest relationship with Super Mario titles since I notoriously struggle with his classic titles and only really got into the franchise once it moved into 3D, I really enjoy these 2.5D throwback games and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe truly is an exemplary title that showcases the very best of this side of the franchise. Colourful, visually appealing, and bolstered by jaunty music and cute, cartoony attention to detail, the game impresses with its tight controls and a fantastic implementation of some of Mario’s 3D skills (such as the triple jump and wall jump). While it can be frustrating at times because of the precise nature of its platforming and how inconsistent the physics and wall jumps can be with some characters, this is purposely implemented as part of the game’s difficulty curve and, more often than not, any mistakes you make will be because of you rather than the game being unfair. Every enemy, challenge, and obstacle can be overcome with skill and patience, and you’ll find yourself using Mario’s power-ups (especially the new Squirrel Suit) to take risks that invariably pay off to launch you off enemies and towards the coveted flagpole. The inclusion of four additional playable characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, really helps to add some variety to the gameplay (though I would’ve preferred there only being one Toad and to have Peach be playable by default, no matter how little sense that makes) so that anyone of any skill level can pick this up and enjoy it, and the boss battles, while simple, were pretty fun thanks to the challenging castles you have to go through beforehand. Super Luigi U was a much-appreciated additional feature, if one I found far more harrowing and frustrating, and I enjoyed all the extra challenges and features to help extend the game beyond the main story. Overall, this is easily my favourite 2.5D Super Mario adventure by far; it takes everything that worked so well in Mario’s better 16-bit titles and infuses them with the Switch’s high-definition graphics and mechanics, and it was an extremely fun and challenging gameplay experience from start to finish.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Did you enjoy Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe? How do you feel it compares other Mario titles, specifically the previous Super Mario Bros. games? Which of the playable characters was your favourite and why? Did you enjoy the new power-ups and the challenge offered by collecting the Star Coins? Which of the boss battles did you struggle with, and did you ever get all of the Star Stamps on your save file? What did you think to Super Luigi U? Which of Mario’s Switch games was your favourite and how are you celebrating Mario’s birthday this year? Whatever your thoughts on Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, feel free to share them below or drop a comment on my social media and be sure to check back in for more Mario content throughout March!
So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties.
Released: 28 May 1993 Director: Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel Distributor: Buena Vista Pictures Budget: $42 to 48 million Stars: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Samantha Mathis, Fiona Shaw, Fisher Stevens, Richard Edson, and Dennis Hopper
The Plot: Mario (Hoskins) and his younger brother, Luigi (Leguizamo), are out-of-luck plumbers who, upon meeting Daisy (Mathis), are suddenly transported to a parallel world where dinosaurs, rather than primates, evolved into the dominant lifeform and are immediately caught up in King Koopa’s (Hopper) diabolical plans to merge this “Dinohattan” with the real world.
The Background: By 1993, Nintendo’s portly plumber Mario was well-established as a successful videogame and pop culture icon; over sixty videogames had been released that either included Mario or featured him and his brother, Luigi, in a starring role. Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo EAD, 1993) was released that same year and the characters had featured in numerous animated and live-action productions. Mario’s popularity had captured the mainstream; a 1990 survey revealed that the character’s popularity and eclipsed that of MickeyMouse and, perhaps inevitably, the idea of a live-action feature film began to take shape thanks to Nintendo’s then-director of advertising and public relations, Bill White. Despite bringing in Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) co-writer Barry Morrow and attracting such superstar names as Dustin Hoffman, Danny DeVito, and Tom Hanks, production of the film almost immediately ran into troubles when pages of the script were “rewritten on a daily basis” so the “actors didn’t bother reading the new pages, knowing full well that more would likely follow” (Russell, 2012: 140). Despite some reservations about the script and being typecast, Bob Hoskins eventually signed on for the lead role and ultimately came to regret the experience; reportedly, he and co-star Leguizamo were so frustrated and unhappy on set that they spent the majority of their working days drunk and Hoskins later claimed that the film was the “worst thing” he had ever done and a “nightmare” as the general onset atmosphere was “anarchic”, with Nintendo being “nowhere to be seen [and without] a representative present during the shoot” and the directors being “out of their depth, pulled between the demands of the producers, their attempts to rewrite on-the-hoof and the logistical enormity of the production” (ibid: 140). Budgeted at $42 million and grossing just over $20 million, Super Mario Bros. was met with almost universal derision; everyone from critics, to cast and crew, and even Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto distanced themselves from the film because of its troubled production and removal from the source material. I, however, loved this movie as a kid; my friends loved this movie back in the day, too, because it was a bright, goofy, fun-packed adventure that was entertaining as hell. As I grew up and moved into studyingvideogame adaptations for my PhD thesis, I also came to appreciate the film as a movie rather than an adaptation, which I think is where a lot of its criticism falls down as people seemed to have been expecting a one-to-one transliteration of the source material and adaptation just doesn’t (or rarely ever) works that way, resulting an a light-hearted, kid-friendly action/adventure romp rather than a 100% recreation of the game’s more obscure fantasy elements (although the later computer-animated movie absolute blew this one out of the water).
The Review: Although Super Mario Bros. was not the only videogame adaptation to be a critical and commercial failure, by virtue of being “the first” it exists as a perpetual reminder that videogame adaptation is difficult and often disappointing. Despite its failure at the box office, movie studios quickly exploited videogame adaptations to entice videogame players into cinemas and allowed the videogame industry the opportunity to license their franchises out with little to lose (Picard: 2008: 295). As a result, Hollywood continues to attract reasonable budgets and high-profile actors and production stuff to videogame adaptations despite the genre “[failing] to receive much in the way of critical or commercial success” and Uwe Boll’s ill-received contributions (ibid). However, while it’s true that the film has many differences from its source material and isn’t much more than a fun kids adventure, that doesn’t necessarily make it “bad”; it’s like a live-action cartoon and, when your source material is a chubby plumber bouncing on the heads of malevolent mushrooms, what else do you really expect?
Bob Hoskins may have spoken out against the film in the years since it released but, whatever his demeanour and mindset on set, he is absolutely fantastic in the role of Mario; the plumber brothers are introduced as normal, everyday working men who are behind on their rent, drive a clapped-out van, and are constantly being scuppered by Anthony Scapelli (Gianni Russo). While Luigi is the young, lazy, overly enthusiastic and imaginative of the two, Mario is the older, more cynical and jaded brother; Luigi is a day dreamer, who is open to all possibilities and probabilities while Mario is realistic and grouchy, concerned about their lack in income and their sustainability. Due to the absence of their parents, Mario has had to fulfil the role of mother, father, and brother to Luigi, raising him since he was a kid and his priority, above all other concerns, is Luigi’s welfare; this manifests itself in a number of ways, from berating his younger brother for his reckless ways and daydreaming, encouraging him to keep his feet on the ground and be realistic and serious for a change, to literally holding Luigi in check physically and emotionally. While Luigi somewhat resents Mario’s constant over-protectiveness and influence on his life, he is also heavily reliant upon his brother; Luigi isn’t much of a plumber and is more like Mario’s apprentice and assistant (he knows the tools and the trade but lacks confidence in tackling big plumbing jobs by himself) and is far my awkward around women compared to his older, far more confident brother. Still, the chemistry between both actors is immediately believable; I totally buy that these two are brothers who wind each other up and get on each other’s nerves in other ways but, nevertheless, share a real bond, their banter is amusing and realistic and, best of all, while they argue and disagree a lot, they never have a big, cliché falling out or anything like that and Mario is always extremely supportive of his younger brother even while he despairs over Luigi’s immaturity.
Furthermore, Mario is given a crippling fear of heights (kind of ironic, you could argue, given the amount of jumping his videogame counter parts takes part in), meaning that he relies on his fearless younger brother when it comes to taking literal leaps of faith; additionally, Mario learns to adopt many of Luigi’s more open-minded characteristics by the conclusion of the film and grows from a reluctant hero to a willing hero, immediately jumping into action to assist Daisy when she pops up for the film’s conclusion. Speaking of which, Daisy is a serviceable enough character for the most part. Like Luigi, she’s an orphan but, unlike him, she’s been driven by an insatiable enthusiasm for dinosaurs and bones and struggled with her identity after she was abandoned as a child (…well, egg, to be more precise). Luigi is instantly enamoured by her based on her beauty and, later, her commitment to this cause and she seems taken by his enthusiasm and awkwardness. While she is able to speak up for herself and is largely calm and emotionally stable, she’s little more than a damsel in distress and doesn’t transform into a proactive heroine until the film’s sequel-bait ending. She directs the brothers when they come to rescue her and sets Yoshi free from his bindings but she doesn’t really factor into the finale in a meaningful way beyond being the only one physically capable of interacting with the meteorite (why, though, is never really explained).
And then there’s King Koopa himself, Dennis Hopper. Again, Hopper might have distanced himself from the film but he delivers a glorious over the top, scenery chewing performance. For all their buffoonery, the Mario Brothers play mostly as the film’s straight men and, in comparison, Koopa is a cartoon villain; he’s bombastic, melodramatic, and packed full of weird little character quirks while still being cold, ruthless, sadistic, and the more serious of his many underlings. Koopa’s plot is ridiculous in the best way (he wants to take Daisy as his own and use the meteorite piece (the “Rock”) she wears around her next to complete the meteor that split their worlds into separate dimensions and merge Dinohattan with New York, with him as the ruling dictator) and every decision he makes is equally ludicrous: when he’s told the Rock is in the hands of two plumbers, he calls for a “Plumber alert!”; when his underlings defy him (or he faces defiance of any kind), he subjects them to his De-Evolution machine and turns them into incompetent Goombas; and, when he acquires the Rock, his first course of action is the order a pizza!
Koopa’s primary minions are his cousins, Iggy (Stevens) and Spike (Edson); while the Mario Brothers are bumbling at times due to their status as unlikely heroes, Iggy and Spike are bumbling full stop; incompetent in every respect, the two act as the film’s comic relief and are thematic parallels to the titular brothers, echoing the Mario’s love/hate relationship through their verbal and physical banter. In an effort to make them more competent, Koopa opts to subject them to a spell of cranial evolution; however, this does little to improve their competency and actually serves to make them smarter than Koopa in many ways, certainly smart enough to cut a deal with the Mario Brothers and, ultimately, turn against their cousin to ensure their own survival. Koopa does have at least one reliable subordinate, however, in the form of Lena (Shaw); however, Lena is intensely jealous of Daisy, since Koopa favours her, so conspires to remove Daisy from the equation while positioning herself as the only woman capable and willing enough to rule by Koopa’s side. Bat shit crazy, she is also a cartoonish villain, literally cackling like a witch when she tries to merge the Rock with the meteorite and pays the ultimate price for her pride and hubris. Before that, though, she demonstrates far more focus in her sadistic desire to off Daisy and even usurp Koopa’s ambitions as she believes that she can rule without him but is blinded by her mad desires just as Koopa is blinded by his ego and libido.
At its core, Super Mario Bros. is little more than a fun kid’s movie; an action/adventure piece that needs to be big, bright, and bombastic and, for the most part, it takes all of these boxes. Dinohattan evokes the murky, gritty, industrial aesthetic of Blade Runner, being this desolate dystopian city that (thanks to an elaborate, practical set) feels real and lived in. Covered with a disgusting fungus, the city is full of little background elements and references (the Hammer Bros, Thwomp, Bullet Bill, and Wriggler all get little cameos as brightly-coloured neon signs, advertisements, and businesses but perhaps the most accurate inclusion is that of the much-feared Bob-omb); sparks, flames, and explosions are aplenty in this gloomy dystopia and the film has a very tangible sense of kinetic energy (things are always moving and bustling and the Mario’s are constantly being herded or pushed forward). Furthermore, there are a lot of amusing scenes and moments in the film; the elevator sequence, for example, where Luigi teaches the Goombas to dance is a stand out, the Mario’s bickering in the desert is gold, and there’s an humorous little side plot later in the film regarding Koopa’s pizza and Toad (Mojo Nixon) bringing Daisy a plate of steamed vegetable amidst her dramatic escape from Koopa’s tower. Not every joke lands, obviously, largely those involving Iggy and Spike (who are a bit too cartoonish) but, again, this is a film designed to appeal to kids so, for the most part, the humour really works, in my opinion, thanks, again, largely to the banter and bickering between the titular brothers.
The Nitty-Gritty: Super Mario Bros. is intrinsically linked with the perceived notion of the film as being a failure and being the first of many big-budget cinematic failings for videogame adaptations. It doesn’t help that the film is largely disregarded by academics (some, like Brookey (2010: 4), who exhibit a blatant misunderstanding about the film’s source material) and critics. Yet, positive reviews of the film can be found, with Thomas Leitch (2007: 263) admirably emphasising the film’s contribution to the field of adaptation by detailing how film-making techniques substitute for the layout of, and interaction with, the videogame world: “[Super Mario Bros.] not only retains but constantly emphasizes the title characters’ absurd names[,] their professional status as plumbers, their unlikely credentials as heroes, and their quest to rescue a kidnapped princess”. I know what you’re probably thinking, though; you’re thinking that the movie is trash because it’s nothing like the videogame. But you’re talking to the wrong person there because, honestly, I don’t care. The only way a Mario movie can hope to recreate the aesthetics of the videogames is to go the all CGI route, in my opinion, and we’ll be seeing that soon enough (hopefully) so, for me, the film does a pretty decent job of translating many of the source material’s more outlandish aspects to live-action.
The focus on dinosaurs is a bit odd, I guess, but remember that Super Mario World (Nintendo EAD, 1990) was still very fresh in people’s minds at the time and featured a dinosaur setting but also a little film called Jurassic Park(Spielberg, 1993) was due out the very next month and would go on to inspire a brief dinosaur craze so Super Mario Bros. was potentially influenced by that. It also really emphasises the Mario’s profession as plumbers; while pipes and plumber iconography was rife in the Mario videogames at the time, it was most more heavily emphasised in the various Mario cartoons (and, perhaps even more obscurely, Super Mario Bros.: Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen! (Hata, 1986), a Japanese-exclusive anime that exhbits a number of narrative similarities to its live-action counterpart) that released before the film (which popularised the notion of the Mario Brothers as both plumbers from Brooklyn and everyday, unlikely heroes). Additionally, there are many aspects from the videogames included in the film; the iconic Mario theme opens the movie (and even plays on the DVD menu, despite never appearing in a prominent way in the film), Daisy ends up in a purple dress reminiscent of the pink attire worn by Princess Toadstool (who was largely interchangeable with Daisy at the time), and the film has a heavy emphasis on jumping and running; the production design features “strong verticals [that] provide many reminders of its heroes’ relative freedom from gravity” (Leitch, 2007: 270) and the Mario Brothers are “constantly jumping, falling, and swinging through a series of unusually vertical sets” to reinforce “the ability of video game heroes to surmount obstacles and enemies by [simply] jumping over them” (ibid: 264). Much of this is thanks to the “Stompers”, gas-powered futuristic boots that allow characters to make superhuman leaps and hover in the air to recreate the jumping mechanics of the videogames.
Sure, you can cry about the film’s depiction of Toad and even Koopa as much as you want but do you really believe that early-nineties effects would have been able to render a kingdom full of anthropomorphic mushrooms and a fire-breathing dragon/turtle hybrid? Of course, the counterpoint to that is to simply produce an animated movie but they didn’t and that’s ignoring the fact that many of the film’s effects hold up extremely well. Sure, the computer effects are quite janky but they’re used sparingly; as I said, Dinohattan is this huge, bustling set, for one thing, and the film is full of elaborate locations that evoke their source material in more ways than you might thing (there’s an arid desert, for one thing, and Koopa’s tower is full of ominous spikes, much like Bowser’s many castles). Add to this a pretty exciting and action-packed car chase that is full of practical effects and some nice puppetry and effects work (Yoshi, in particular, stands out but the Goomba’s aren’t half bad either) and you have an extremely visually interesting and exciting movie for my money. Also, while their outfits aren’t overalls and it makes little sense for them to wear them (Mario seems to think wearing them will help them get up Koopa’s tower without suspicion but none of Koopa’s minions are dressed that way…), I absolutely love the Mario’s brightly-coloured outfits and there’s a real sense of thematic significance given to the scene where they acquire them as it represents them embracing their roles as heroes. Furthermore, there’s some fun little Easter Eggs in the film, too, such as Koopa’s portable de-evolution guns being Super Scopes and Mario using a piece of fungus to shield himself from the gun’s effects (like in the games, he uses a mushroom allows him to take a free hit).
The Summary: Even now, there is a lot to like about Super Mario Bros.; it’s a fun, bombastic live-action cartoon that is geared towards being adventurous and whimsical. What few elements it does take from its source material are incorporated subtly and slavish devotion to fidelity is secondary to telling a quirky story that will appeal, primarily, to kids and be amusing enough for their parents to sit through. In many respects, the film isn’t really geared towards fans of the videogames at all, at least not those who expect an exact recreation of the source material (something no adaptation, live-action or otherwise, has ever done; no matter how accurate an adaptation may be, it will never be 100% faithful as films are a completely different medium to videogames, being passive entertainment over which the viewer has no control). Sadly, though, Super Mario Bros. is perhaps destined to go down in infamy not just for differing so wildly from its source material but also for being the most often-cited example of why videogame adaptations are doomed to fail again and again. It was the first of its kind, however; no one knew how to translate a videogame into a live-action film and, it can be argued, few have really learned how to refine this process since then. Regardless, however, I think it’s best to view Super Mario Bros. in terms of its genre rather than as an adaptation; it’s so far removed from its source material that you kind of have to and, as a result, you’re left with a pretty decent kids movie that isn’t designed to appeal to everybody but is nowhere near as bad a movie as the majority of people like to make it out to be.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
How do you feel about Super Mario Bros.? Did you see it as a kid? If so, what are your memories of it and how do you feel it holds up today? What did you think to the casting and the performances in the film? Do you agree with the majority consensus that it’s a terrible film because it’s nothing like the videogames or do you, perhaps, enjoy it as an entertaining adventure film and nothing more? Do you think a live-action Mario movie could work with today’s technology? Which Nintendo franchise would you most like to see get a live-action adaptation? Whatever you think, leave a comment below and come back next Thursday for more Mario content.
So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties.
Released: 27 January 2014 Originally Released: 10 May 1999 Developer: Nintendo Original Developer: Nintendo R&D4 Also Available For: Game Boy Color
The Background: After his debut in Donkey Kong(Nintendo R&D2/Ikegami Tsushinki, 1983) and graduating to his own arcade title alongside his brother, Luigi, Shigeru Miyamoto’s Mario took the world by storm with Super Mario Bros. The game was extremely popular, selling over 40 million copies and was pivotal to Nintendo saving the videogames industry from destitution. The game is also no stranger to being ported to other systems; it was a 16-bit makeover for Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo EAD, 1993) and re-released on the Nintendo Wii to commemorate its twenty-fifth anniversary but, before that, though, Super Mario Bros. was ported to the Game Boy Color in this version of the game. Although Super Mario Bros. Deluxe suffered from a smaller screen size due to its new portable format, the game featured a few new features, such as additional animated elements, challenge modes, compatibility with the Game Boy Printer, and bonus levels, all of which saw it ranked as one of the greatest Game Boy games of all time and it was highly praised for its additional features. The game later made it onto the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Library, and gamers were even able to receive a free copy by registering their Nintendo Network ID, which further bolstered the game with the 3DS save state features and finally gave me my best opportunity to play through this classic title after years of struggling with Mario’s classic 2D efforts.
The Plot: The Mushroom Kingdom has been invaded by Bowser, King of the Koopas, and this wacky army, the Koopa Troopas. After transforming the citizens into inanimate objects and kidnapping Princess Toadstool, Mario and Luigi set out to liberate the Mushroom Kingdom and rescue the princess from his clutches!
Gameplay: As an updated port of perhaps gaming’s most famous 2D, sidescrolling platformer,Super Mario Bros. Deluxe looks, sounds, and plays exactly the same as Super Mario Bros. except you have reduced visibility due to the screen size and the scrolling is a little janky at times. This basically means that the left side of the screen catches up to you pretty fast, which can be an issue as you can’t freely backtrack in the level (or “World”) so it can cause you to plummet to your death if you’re not careful, and it’s not always immediately clear what dangers or goodies are above or below you, meaning you need to use the directional pad to shunt the screen up and down for a better look but, otherwise, the controls and presentation are exactly what you’d expect from Nintendo’s breakout title. You’re played into the overalls or Mario (or Luigi, if you press the Select button prior to entering a World), who can run by holding B or Y and jump by pressing A. Mario will cain extra height and distance if you hold down the jump button and jump from a run, and jumping on enemies is his primary way of dispatching them. While Mario’s physics are pretty tight and responsive, he can be slippery and awkward at times, especially when bouncing off springs, but Luigi is even worse since he has far less traction and a less manageable, higher jump.
As ever, your goal is to move from the left side of the screen to the right and reach a goal flag within a time limit; this timer is pretty generous and it’s only on later Worlds where the game throws repeating paths at you that it can get a bit tricky reaching the end in time. Mario hops about, bouncing off enemies and hitting blocks to progress, but also has to clear longer gaps with the aid of a spring or moving, weighted, or temporary platforms or smaller ones by running over them. Throughout the Mushroom Kingdom, you’ll find a number of pipes; some of these can be entered to reach secret areas, usually full of Coins, and provide you with a shortcut, but you can also go out of bounds sometimes and find a Warp Zone to skip ahead to a later World. For the most part, you’ll be exploring the block-and-gap-landed Mushroom Kingdom, with only a few different obstacles (either “stairs” or blocks, more gaps, or long stretches of land with enemies to bump off) distinguishing them, but you’ll also venture into underground areas somewhat reminiscent of caves (which tend to be a bit more claustrophobic had have more elevator platforms) and also underwater a couple of times. Here, you’re completely defenceless without a Fire Flower or Super Star and must rapidly tap A to swim ahead; you don’t need to worry about air, which is helpful, but there does seem to be sections where you’re pulled down towards the bottom of the screen (and your death). Although there’s a score counter in the game, it’s more for bragging rights than anything else and doesn’t seem to award you extra lives, though these are awarded for consecutively defeating enemies. Furthermore, while there are no mid-World checkpoints, you can save and end your game at any time from the pause menu and you’re given three save files to play with, and the game keeps track of your lives and completion progress on the new (albeit limited) overworld screen.
Graphics and Sound: Super Mario Bros. Deluxe appears to be an exact recreation of the original title, so it’s Super Mario Bros. as you know and love it and in all its 8-bit glory, though there are a few graphical additions to the water and lava to make them more lively. This means, of course, that animation frames are low, and the presentation is quite basic, but the game is still a colourful and pretty ambitious title, with Mario and Luigi’s sprites being the obvious standout. Sure, they have no idle animations, but they can grow and shrink and change colour from power-ups, do a little slide/turnaround pose when you quickly change direction, perform a breaststroke underwater, and have a little death animation when you stupidly run into an oncoming Koopa shell. Enemies receive even less animation but remain memorable simply because they’re so quirky and weird; mean little mushrooms, hammer tossing turtles, and pouting fish fill the screen, with all of them popping out from the backgrounds thanks to their unique colour palettes, and there’s never a question of not being able to see where you’re going or what you’re doing (as long as it’s not too high up or below you).
The game also seems to pop a little more and run a little smoother, potentially because of the better hardware, and all the classic Super Mario Bros. tunes are here to settle in your ear for the rest of the day. There’s no many, granted, with only a handful of different tunes playing in the game’s different areas, but they’re all chirpy and catchy and help keep everything very whimsical. Sadly, there’s really not much variety in the Worlds; the Mushroom Kingdom stages sometimes have more pipes or blocks or platforms, or slightly different hills or even mushroom platforms at some point, but the closest they get to actually looking any different are the rare occasions when they receive a minor palette swap to simulate night or have brick castle walls in the background. The underwater levels are very visually appealing with their bubbles and seaweed, but are few and far between, same as the underground sections, but the game does impress with its end of World melody and jingle (a little flagpole raises and fireworks go off when you clear Worlds) and in the lava-filled stone castles you must conquer to clear each World. There’s no in-game story offered at all, but a Toad will tell you that the princess is in another castle at the end of every World and there’s fun little animations of the castle crumbling on the new overworld screens, so that’s a nice touch.
Enemies and Bosses: Naturally, all the enemies you’ve come to know and love from Super Mario titles appear and made their debut in this title. The first enemy you’ll come across are the Goomas (pretty unthreatening sentient mushrooms that wander about and can be flattened with your jump) and the Koopa Troopas. These come in two colours (red and green) and a flying variant that can either catch you off-guard in mid-air or act as a temporary jump boost. When you defeat a Koopa Troopa, you can hit their shell to send it flying into other enemies for a score and life bonus but be careful as it’s just as likely to ricochet back at you. You can do the same to the Buzzy Beetles, but these guys are smaller, harder to hit, and are immune to your fireballs. Also of great annoyance are the piranha plants to pop out from pipes, usually when you least expect it, the squid-like Bloopers (who erratically swim about underwater), and Cheap Cheaps (who often dive up out of the water as you run over bridges).
By far the worst regular enemies you’ll encounter, though, are Lakitu and the Hammer Bros. Lakitu hovers overhead (just out of reach) and drops Spinys across the stage , though you can take both of these out if you have a Fire Flower. The Hammer Bros usually attack in twos and from higher ground, tossing hammers in a tight arc that can be tough to jump over and even tougher to land with your jump as the window where they’re vulnerable is incredibly small. As for bosses, there’s technically only one in the entire game but you must battle him eight times and each time you have to endure a lava-filled obstacle course and/or pick the correct path to reach him, and this is, of course, Bowser. While seven of the eight Bowsers are actually his minions in disguise, each one attacks just like the real thing; perched over a bridge, Bowser moves back and forth, hops up and down, and spits fireballs at you. Some castles include a moving platform overhead for you to use to get behind him, and the fights become tougher as the amount of projectiles he spits increases, he adds a load of hammers to his arsenal, and Lava Bubbles will pop up from the magma below. However, the strategy to defeating Bowser remains the same every time: either blast at him repeatedly with a Fire Flower until he’s done in, or hop over him (or pass through him after taking a hit) and jump on the axe to remove the bridge beneath him and send him to the lava below.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: Coins are scattered all throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. Collecting these adds to your score tally and will net you an extra life once you get one-hundred of them, after which the counter resets to zero. Your Coin counter carries over between Worlds and you’ll often find bunches of them hidden away beneath pipes or along higher paths. You can also grab a 1-Up Mushroom for an extra life as well, or a Super Mushroom to grow bigger and become Super Mario/Luigi. This lets you take a hit without dying and allows you to smash certain blocks by hitting them from beneath, which can uncover secret routes. A Fire Flower lets you throw bouncing fireballs with the B button, which is great for taking out most enemies (and Bowser) from a safe distance, but you’ll revert to you basic, smaller form if you take a hit in either of these states. Finally, there’s the Super Star, which grants you a brief period of invincibility from all onscreen hazards except bottomless pits and lava pools; consecutively defeating enemies in this state will net you extra points and, eventually, an extra life.
Additional Features: One of the primary reasons I was actually able to finish the game this time around was due to the additional features offered by the Nintendo 3DS, most notably the save state feature, which lets you create a save point wherever you want so you can recover from mistakes much faster and easier, though the base game includes a number of additional features, too. Although you initially can’t backtrack to previous Worlds, you’ll be able to select which World to revisit on your save file after clearing the game. This also unlocks a new, far more challenging adventure, which you can play by selecting the star option when loading your save file. This replaces all Goombas with Buzzy Beetles, speeds up the enemy’s walking speed, reduces the size of elevator lifts, adds more fire bars, and removes the power-ups from the game. New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe also includes a ‘Challenge’ mode that sees you exploring the game’s Worlds once again, this time in search of Red Coins and Yoshi Eggs to unlock content in the game’s Toy Box.
Once you accumulate 100,000 points in the main game, you unlock ‘You VS. Boo’, a race against a Boo across rejigged Worlds hitting new blocks to clear the way so you can get ahead of the ghost, which can naturally pass through walls. Once you beat the Boo, it’ll get replaced by faster and faster different coloured variants to test your high score. When you earn 300,000 points in the main game, you’ll unlock Super Mario Bros. for Super Players (indicated by the Luigi face now on the main title screen), which is a remake of Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (Nintendo EAD, 1986). This game gives you only one save slot and provides thirteen new, much tougher Worlds, a new item in the injury- (or death-) dealing Poison Mushroom, alongside palette swaps of enemies and a wind that makes jumping even trickier. You can also partake in a ‘VS Game’, which is a two-player challenge mode that’s exactly the same as ‘You VS Boo’ but pits you against another human player, a Toy Box that offers a variety of toys for you to unlock and use, and a Fortune Teller mini game that awards you extra lives on a new save file. Every time you defeat each of the eight castles, a Toad will be added to the Mystery Room which will show you animations or artwork to print out on the Game Boy Printer, you’ll receive medals for clearing the different game modes, and there’s even a calendar included if you want to keep track of the days of the week.
The Summary: I’ve carried the shame of never having beaten Super Mario Bros. for most of my life; to be fair, I didn’t own any of Nintendo’s home consoles until the Nintendo 64 so I didn’t really play any Super Mario titles that weren’t on the Game Boy or played through emulators, and my attempt to play it on the Nintendo Wii was largely just me messing about rather than actually sitting down and trying to finish it. Knowing that the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console wasn’t long for this world, I jumped at the chance to get Super Mario Bros. Deluxe while I could can give it a go and finally achieved that long-elusive goal of finishing this classic platformer, and I was mostly happy with the results. The game is fun, bright, and full of a steady challenge; while it can be too simple at some times and a little frustrating at others with its obstacle placement, it’s fun hopping about and using the skills you’ve mastered over the course of the game to dash past and jump around the later Worlds. While there’s not a lot of variety to the Worlds and the graphics are very basic, I can excuse that since it was an 8-bit title from the mid-eighties and it still holds up as an entertaining little adventure to keep you busy for a long afternoon. While it’s a shame that a version of Mario Bros. (Nintendo R&D1, 1983) included as well, I won’t hold that against it as the additional features added to this game, including mini games, The Lost Levels, and extra challenges, really make Super Mario Bros. Deluxe the definitive 8-bit version of Nintendo’s classic platformer.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Did you enjoy Super Mario Bros. Deluxe? What did you think to the additions made to the game and how do you feel it compares to the original videogame? Did you play Super Mario Bros. as a child and, if so, what are some of your memories of the game? Did you ever find all the Warp Zones and complete the new challenges introduced in this version of the game? Which of the classic Super Mario titles is your favourite? Are there any retro videogames you didn’t complete until later in like? Whatever your thoughts on Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, feel free to leave a comment below by signing up or drop your thoughts on my social media, and be sure to check back for more Mario content this March!
Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version(Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, and watching the feature-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”, which I expanded to an entire month of Pokémon this February.
Released: 8 July 2000 Director: Kunihiko Yuyama Distributor: Toho Budget: $3 to 16 million Stars: Veronica Taylor, Eric Stuart, Rachael Lillis, Amy Birnbaum, Dan Green, and Ikue Ōtani
The Plot: Professor Spencer Hale (Green) is transported to a chaotic dimension by the mysterious Unown (Various), leaving his young daughter, Molly (Birnbaum), devastated and alone. Her grief causes the Unown’s power to rage out of control, manifesting an illusionary Entei (Green) and transforming her home into a crystal-like palace. When Entei kidnaps Ash Ketchum’s (Taylor) mother, Delia (ibid) to appease Molly’s wish for a mother, Ash and friends must brave the danger to break the Unown’s unruly spell.
The Background: Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present) was an absolute phenomenon when it came over from Japan: it swept through playgrounds as kids played the videogames, collected the trading cards, and were mesmerised by the still-ongoing anime series (1997 to present). This fantastic marketing strategy was all it took for the aptly-titled Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back(Yuyama, 1998) to become a box office success and kick-started a whole series of feature films designed to expand upon the anime and promote both the newest Pokémon videogames and showcase the franchise’s most powerful and elusive beasts. Although it earned less than the blockbuster first movie, Pokémon the Movie 2000: The Power of One(Yuyama, 1999) still made over $130 million against a $30 million budget and Pokémon was arguably at its peak thanks to the anticipation around the newest games in the series. The third feature-film was afforded a much smaller budget than its predecessors and was the first Pokémon movie to premier in IMAX cinemas. Unfortunately, the film’s $68.5 million box office meant that it was the least successful of the first three Pokémon movies and it was met with largely negative critical reviews; however, it has amassed something of a cult following and is regarded by some to be one of the best Pokémon movies.
The Review: Pokémon 3: The Movie opens in the beautiful town of Greenfield, a lush and verdant town in the Johto region that is knowing for is sweeping hills, windmills, and fields of flowers. It’s also home to the Spencer Hale and his daughter, Molly, who live in a luxurious mansion that overlooks the entire town. Every evening, Spencer reads to his inquisitive and loving young daughter from a picture book that imagines what some Legendary Pokémon look like; although she’s particularly taken with Entei, she also highlights the mysterious Unown, a group of interdimensional, Psychic-type Pokémon who have long been the subject of Spencer’s extensive research. However, while Spencer and Molly have a very close, loving relationship, it’s clear that there’s a void in the lives and their household due to the disappearance of the Spencer matriarch, who mysteriously vanished one day while helping Spencer with his research, leaving Molly without a mother and Spencer to carry the burden of guilt.
Spencer has doubled down on his research; aided by his assistant, Schuyler (Ted Lewis), Spencer has been conducting an in-depth investigation into a site of ruins where the stone walls are covered in carvings that resemble the Unown. Unfortunately, after discovering a chest full of small stone tablets engraved with the different alphabetical shapes of the Unown, Spencer is also whisked away to the cosmic void of the Unown Dimension, a swirling place of mystery while the Unown constantly rotate around and sing their names. Schuyler is left dumbfounded at Spencer’s sudden disappearance, and Molly is left absolutely heart-broken and alone; with both of her parents gone, she’s left only with the Unown puzzle pieces and the heartfelt wish to have her father returned to her. Her tearful plea summons the Unown and, while she is delighted that they’ve come to “play with [her]”, their true intention is slightly more malicious as they apparently feed off of her grief-stricken wishes in order to become stronger. Fuelled by her dreams of a crystalline home, the Unown transform the mansion a piece at a time until it represents pictures from Spencer’s book, and their power is so great that they’re able to answer her desire for the return of her father by conjuring an illusion of Entei, whom Molly believes is her father’s spirit returned to her.
Quite coincidentally, Ash, Pikachu (Ōtani), and former gym leaders Misty (Lillis) and Brock (Stuart) just happen to be passing by and run across a trainer native to the area, Lisa (Lisa Ortiz). After Brock strikes out with her (with one of the film’s most amusing lines, “I’m Brock, from Pewter City! And I want to be your boyfriend!”) and Ash is able to beat her in a surprisingly evenly matched Pokémon battle during the film’s opening credits, Lisa guides them to Greenfield so that they can rest up at the Pokémon Center and take in the town’s much-lauded beauty. Suffice it to say that Ash is unimpressed, and the group is horrified, to find that the once stunning landscape has been almost completely overtaken with the Unown’s bizarre crystalline wasteland. Even perennial bothers Jessie (Lillis), James (Stuart), and wise-cracking Meowth (Maddie Blaustein) of Team Rocket are stunned to find Greenfield in such a state, and it’s not long before a news crew (Kathy Pilon and Roger Kay) arrive to try and restore order and report on the strange events. Back in Pallet Town, Delia Ketchum, Ash’s mother, sees the news report and is distraught at the continued suffering of her old friend, Spencer Hale, and she and Professor Samuel Oak (Stuart Zagnit) resolve to travel to Greenfield to get to the bottom of the what’s happening, and to check on Molly. While others are alarmed by the startling transformation of Greenfield, Molly revels in her crystal palace; she delights in playing with her “Papa” and seeing her wishes literally spring to life before her eyes, but her longing for her mother remains. Seeing Delia on the news broadcast reminds her not only of her own mother, but also of the times when Delia and Ash would visit her and her family in years past, and she wishes for Entei to bring her a “Mama” to complete their little family. This adds an interesting personal wrinkle to the film’s plot that has been absent from the previous two films as Entei boldly introduces itself to our heroes by subduing and kidnapping Delia right before Ash’s eyes and holding her captive in Molly’s crystalline palace. Ash is horrified when his mother is kidnapped, and immediately leads his friends on a rescue mission to get her back, literally putting his life at risk to brave the crystal wasteland and scale the tower and reach her.
Although Entei’s powers are formidable enough to render Delia a mindless drone who fully believes that she’s Molly’s “Mama”, its spell is broken when Delia sees Ash in danger, but she’s smart enough to quickly realise what’s been going on and to play along with the deception in order to try and reach Molly. Delia recognises that Molly has been very alone for a long time, even before Spencer went missing, and sympathises with her pain, but cannot condone Entei’s enabling and the disruptive influence of the Unown. It’s important to note for Poké-enthusiasts out there that the Entei seen is this film is not the Legendary Pokémon whom it resembles. Rather than being a reincarnated Pokémon known for its blazing Fire-type attacks, Entei is a creation of the Unown and more akin to a Psychic-type Pokémon. At the time, I considered this an odd decision as it kind of wastes the natural characterisation of this creature as one of a trio of Legendary Pokémon, but it actually goes a long way to supporting the deeper themes of the film surrounding grief and a child’s desire for love and affection. Born from Molly’s memories of her father, her love for him, and her idolisation of his strength and loyalty, Entei is granted incredibly powers by the Unown that are contrary to those it has in the games; it can teleport, control the minds of others, create crystalline structures at will, and spit out a powerful aura blast in addition to its durability and strength being theoretically inexhaustible. It is as strong and as capable as Molly wishes it to be, and as long as she believes in it, it can accomplish almost any feat, regardless of whether that action is morally right or wrong. A constant companion and guardian to Molly, Entei fully accepts her belief that it is her beloved “Papa” and goes to any lengths to keep her happy and to protect her, even battling against its out of control masters.
So devoted is Entei to Molly that it not only bows to her every wish, but also encourages her to wish for more and to believe that she can anything she desires. When the authorities try to breach the crystal formation, Molly throws a temper tantrum and demands that they be kept out but, when she spots that Ash and the others are Pokémon trainers, she quickly wishes to engage them in Pokémon battles. Thanks to the Unown’s near-limitless power, the interior and environment of the palace constantly changes, and also allows Molly to conjure unbeatable illusionary Pokémon and even age herself up to be a more competent Pokémon trainer. Of course, thanks to the Unown’s power, she’s easily able to best her more experienced opponents with the likes of Teddiursa (Erica Schroeder) and Phanpy (Megumi Hayashibara) even when she should be hopelessly outmatched. She’s even able to flood the area with water, and allow her and Misty to breath underwater, so great are her powers, are she becomes so lost in her fantasy that Entei is empowered enough to battle even Ash’s stubborn and formidable Charizard (Shin-ichiro Miki), which arrives not only to help its former trainer but also to pit its strength against an opponent such as Entei. However, the battle proves destructive, wrecking much of Molly’s new home and leaving the heroes’ Pokémon hurt, and Charizard in danger of being killed by the furious Entei; the only hope for the heroes is for Delia, Ash, and the others to help remind Molly of her real family, both those who are gone and the family she could have by forming a bond with real Pokémon, which causes her to finally snap free from her fantasy and demand an end to the fighting.
The Nitty-Gritty: One of issues I had with Pokémon the Movie 2000 was that it tried a little too hard to raise the stakes in comparison to the first film; while Pokémon: The First Movie was reconfigured into more of a worldwide threat in the English dub, the second film explicitly put the entire world at risk, so it’s a nice change of pace to see the third film tell a far more grounded, more personal story. This is most obvious in Delia’s larger role; up until now, she’s merely been a cameo or a bit-player in the films, but she’s a pivotal inclusion in this film and the driving force behind Ash’s excursion into the crystallised Greenfield. Indeed, he is driven to an uncharacteristic anger at her abduction, which is focused entirely on Entei and transforms into a battle of wills as Ash regards the beast as a mere illusion and Entei adamantly seeks to prove its reality and defend Molly by any means necessary.
Of course, it’s Molly’s sadness and grief that is at the heart of the movie’s story; already struggling after the loss of her mother, she was left despondent when Spencer disappeared as well and unable to properly process her anguish. When the Unown respond to her dreams and wishes, she finally feels that hole in her heart has been filled and is easily convinced that everything she is seeing is “real” and that she can be and have whatever she wants “as long as that is her wish”. It’s a powerful, emotional aspect of the film, and easy to forget that Molly isn’t some malevolent or mean-spirited antagonist. She’s just a frightened, lonely little girl who desperately wants her beloved “Papa” and “Mama” back, and is overjoyed to see her father returned in the form of Entei and her every wish brought to life by the Unown’s power. Similarly, Entei is not a necessarily vindictive entity; it’s simply acting out Molly’s wishes, whatever they may be, but bolstered by such vicious and formidable power that it transforms the once beautiful crystal tower into a hazardous landscape of spikes and battles Charizard with such an unmatched ferocity that it’s even posed to kill the helpless and outmatched creature. While Entei seems to fill the void in Molly’s life and heart, Delia and Ash and the others try to convince her that it’s merely another aspect of the Unown’s illusionary power; a false reality she’s conjured to shield her from facing the real world. Through them, she sees that real relationships can be forged through friends, partners, and make-shift families that can be just as fulfilling as having her every wish granted.
I have to say that, given the trajectory of the Pokémon movies, I was surprised that a Pokémon as unremarkable and weak as Unown be such a focal point of this film, especially considering the next most obvious choice would have been to focus on Ho-Oh and the Legendary Beasts. Instead, though, Entei, Raikou (Katsuyuki Konishi), and Suicune (Masahiko Tanaka) were split up across specials and movies and it would take quite some time for Ho-Oh to actually make a real movie appearance. I guess this helped to make the movies a bit more unpredictable, and it certainly helped to make the Unown a surprising threat in this film, but I can’t help but feel like it was a missed opportunity. Still, the Unown are given an unexpectedly malicious edge in this film; while ostensibly appearing to be somewhat mischievous and aloof, their ability to read people’s minds and alter reality based on their wishes and dreams quickly makes them a threat to all of Greenfield. Not only do they transform the landscape, but they but many lives in danger through their quasi-avatar, Entei, and the strength of Molly’s tumultuous emotions soon sends their Psychic powers into overdrive. By the time she’s ready to leave behind her dreamworld and return to reality, the Unown have exerted so much power and thrown into such chaos by Molly’s emotional state that they’ve lost control of the illusion and the crystalline formations threaten to trap, or kill, everyone within. Their only hope is Entei, whom Molly pours all of her hopes and dreams and belief into to break through the Unown’s protective barrier and undo their magic, dispelling itself in the process. Although distraught to see her father-figure unmade, Molly has learned the value of friendship, co-operation, and family from Ash’s example and her story ends on a happy not when the Unown return not only Spencer but also his wife from their dimension. Thus, Greenfield is restored, Molly regains her true family, Delia is rescued, and Ash and the others continue on their Pokémon journey.
The Summary: As much as the first two Pokémon films were a spectacle that released right as the franchise was at its peak, Pokémon 3: The Movie opts to tell a far more personal and emotionally-charged story by focusing on a little girl’s loneliness and despair and having Ash’s mother be caught up in a chaotic situation. This is easily the best part of the movie’s appeal, beyond the brutal and unrelenting battle between Entei and Charizard, and definitely makes it a worthwhile watch and worthy follow-up to its predecessors. It’s a very different movie from the last two, which placed the most powerful, mysterious, and elusive Pokémon at the centre of their stories and kind of slapped action set pieces around them, such was the allure of the Legendary Pokémon they featured, whereas Pokémon 3: The Movie fundamentally alters the characterisation, abilities, and role of Entei and the Unown in service of its story. As much as I appreciate the effort put into crafting a more poignant story that tackles the grief felt be the loss of a loved one and reinforces Pokémon’s overall themes of friendship and partnership, I still can’t help be disappointed by the depiction of Entei in this film. For me, splitting the Legendary Beasts up for so long as a major misstep and deprived us of seeing them make a proper, big screen impact. Still, this doesn’t dilute the story we’re given here and Pokémon 3: The Movie remains a unique entry in the Pokémon movie series since it keeps the stakes grounded and personal; while the literal world isn’t at risk, Molly’s dreamworld is and so is Ash and Delia’s (since they mean the world to each other), which really helps to make for a much more relatable and focused narrative. The Unown’s limitless and unpredictable powers, coupled with Entei’s mounting ferocity, make for a surprising threat against the heroes, who are constantly outmatched at every turn and only triumph by appealing to a frightened and hurt little girl’s heart, which definitely helps the film to make an impact even if I would have preferred more focus on the actual Legendary Pokémon.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Are you a fan of Pokémon 3: The Movie? What did you think to the more personal grounded focus? Did you like the depiction of Entei and the Unown or would you have preferred to see them portrayed closer to the source material? What did you think to Delia’s larger role and the focus on Molly’s grief? Which Pokémon game, generation, and creature is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Pokémon Day today? Whatever your thoughts, sign up to drop them in the comments below or feel free to leave a reply on my social media.
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: 16 July 2021 Originally Released: 18 November 2018 Developer: Tantalus Media Original Developer: Nintendo EAD Also Available For: Nintendo Wii
The Plot: Positioned as the first adventure in the Legend of Zelda timeline, Skyward Sword details the origins of the powerful Master Sword as Link, resident of the floating island of Skyloft, embarks on a quest to rescue Zelda, his childhood friend, after she is kidnapped and taken to the Surface, an abandoned land below the clouds, by the malevolent Ghirahim as part of a plot to awaken an ages-old darkness upon the world.
Gameplay: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a partially open world action/adventure in which players once again assume the role of an incarnation of Link, here a knight-in-training on an island above the clouds. Right away, players have two control options available to them that allows them to utilise motion controls much like the original Nintendo Wii release or to use a more traditional control scheme; however, while this latter option is more comfortable for me, it’s very different from how a Zelda game traditionally plays. A is now an action button that allows you to open doors and chests, talk to non-playable characters (NPCs), and pick up items; B is used to put your weapons away or can be help down while running or otherwise moving for a burst of speed (though you can’t hold it down indefinitely or you’ll drain your stamina wheel and be left defenceless as Link tries to catch his breath), X is mainly used to charge ahead when on your Loftwing, and Y isn’t really used at all. Consequently, sword combat is mapped to the right analogue stick; you can hold ZL to target enemies or interactable objects and flick the stick to unleash a sword attack (perhaps because of this, Link is now right-handed, as opposed to the traditional left). This actually took me a bit of time to adapt to as Link seems to swing his sword in the opposite direction you flick (swinging left with you flick to the right, for example), which can make activating certain switches and attacking some enemies tricky as you need to swing where there’s an opening.
If you knock an enemy down, they’ll sometimes be left open for a “Fatal Blow” that allows you to leap at them for an instant kill, and Link and both perform is signature spin attack, jump swing, and also stab at enemies with his sword. Eventually, you’ll also learn the “Skyward Strike” which sees Link hold his sword aloft to charge it and then sending out an energy wave to damage enemies from a distance, which is a handy feature. Link can also defend himself with his shield by holding ZL and perform a shield bash, which doubles as a parry, by pressing in the left analogue stick. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the game’s shields can be burnt or broken, meaning you’ll either need to upgrade them to toughen them up, buy now ones, or complete a side quest to get a more durable shield. Like many 3D Zelda games, Link automatically jumps from ledges; he can also hang down, shimmy along, and climb vines, all of which will drain your stamina meter. Link can also swing from ropes to reach new areas, which can be a bit tricky to perform as you need to aim yourself with the left stick and flick the right stick up and down in just the right motion to get the momentum you need. Chatting with some NPCs will also offer you a few dialogue options, which don’t really factor into the plot or change their perception of you, but they do help to give Link a little bit more characterisation this time around. Once Link acquires the Master Sword, he also gains one of the most annoying travelling companions I’ve ever had the misfortune of being lumbered with as Fi, the spirit of the sword, acts as a guide, navigator, and tutorial to the player very much in the same way as Navi did back in the day. You can call upon Fi at anytime using the directional pad (D-pad) to gain insight into targeted enemies, remind yourself of your current objective, or get some advice, but she also pops up uninvited at various points to hold your hand or point out the obvious. She also helps you to search for objectives, treasure, and other items by using the sword’s “Dowsing” ability, which puts you into a first-person mode and guides you towards your set target.
You can bring up the map using the – menu and set markers to also help guide you in the right direction, which is very useful as it can be easy to get turned around a bit. One thing to keep in mind here is that there are no manual saves; you need to find a Bird Statue to manually save your progress to one of three save files, though there is an autosave feature that effectively adds as a checkpoint system. Similar to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Nintendo EAD, 2002), the game’s overworld is a series of islands and set areas connected by a large void, in this case the open sky; Link can fly to new destinations using his Loftwing, which replaces the traditional horse, by tapping A to ascend and B to slow down or charge into enemies using X. You’ll be utilising the Loftwing a lot to travel back and forth between the three main areas of the game, as well as Skyloft and the smaller items as the story demands, but you can five down to any Bird Statue in any area and exit dungeons (or teleport to the Sky) from these same statues, though you can’t fast travel between destinations using this system. Though Link takes fall damage, you’ll soon acquire a Sailcloth that lets you glide to the ground from high falls by holding ZR (though you can’t actually manoeuvre him while he’s descending). This also allows you to ride air currents upwards and you’ll eventually gain the ability to swim and even twirl through and jump out of the water very much like Zora Link in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (ibid, 2000). Link also later acquires the Digging Mitts, which allow him to burrow underground and crawl through narrow caves, smashing boulders and activating switches to progress further, and also gets his hands on the Goddess’s Harp that lets him open up new areas by strumming the stings with well-timed movements of the right stick, which is a far cry from the ocarina playing or wind conducting from previous games. Link will also have to complete four trials in the “Silent Realm”; here, he loses all of his equipment and items and must race around collecting fifteen Sacred Tears across the map while avoiding the ghost-like Watchers and making sure you don’t touch the Waking Water or your Spirit Vessel doesn’t deplete as this will awakens the Guardians, who will hunt you down and eject you from the dimension upon impact, forcing you to begin all over again.
Although Skyward Sword looks like the biggest Zelda experience ever seen at the time, it really doesn’t actually feel that way; I’d argue that Twilight Princess felt much bigger and more connected thanks to actually having a large overworld with different routes and areas all linked together. In Skyward Sword, you’ll be spending most of your time travelling back and forth between the three main regions on the Surface (Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano, and the Lanayru Desert), Skyloft, and the Thundercloud up in the Sky. Each area is an isolated environment; you won’t find any routes or means to travelling from Faron Woods to Eldin Volcano beyond flying there on your Loftwing, but each of those regions does have a few other areas that you’ll explore as the game progresses. The Lanayru Desert, for example, is home to a treacherous desert, the Temple of Time, and a mine, all of which you’ll need to explore at various points. The main quest of the game asks Link to travel to each area thee times and acquire one of three different key items or meet three different objectives each time. At first, you’ll need to find three stone fragments form each region to access the Thundercloud; then, you need to find three Sacred Flames to power up the Master Sword. Then, you need to travel back again and find three pieces of the Song of the Hero and access the game’s final dungeon, all of which can get a bit repetitive even though the enemies and the environments do change which each revisit. Faron Woods becomes flooded, for example, and Eldin Volcano erupts, and you’ll find new regions opening up with your new gear and completing story-based tasks, such as Lake Floria just off Faron Woods, the ghostly Sandship and Rickety Coaster in Lanayru Desert’s Sand Sea (both of which are accessed by piloting a boat armed with a cannon), and at one point you’ll find yourself relieved of your weapons and gear and having to escape (and retrieve them) from Eldin Volcano without being spotting in an expansion of the Gerudo Fortress section of Ocarina of Time.
Naturally, you’ll visit a number of dungeons in your quest, which (as is tradition) are realised as elemental-themed temples. Inside, you’ll find small keys to opens doors and a Dungeon Map (which now reveals Bird Statues, chests, and points of interest by default to replace the Compass) to help you progress, and you’ll need to clear rooms of enemies, activate switches and pressure pads, and take on sub-bosses to acquire the temple’s new weapon, which will allow you to progress further and tackle the boss. Sometimes you’ll need to move a weighted block onto a switch or out of the way to climb a ladder; other times, you’ll need to hit switches to raise or lower water and lava, cut through cobwebs, send eyeballs spinning, and shoot or hit faraway switches to open doors. Link will also need to hit plant bulbs (or carry them on the tip of his sword) to create temporary platforms in lava, grapple to floating plants or specific targets with the Clawshots, toss or guide bombs into baskets to create platforms over quicksand, and sever ropes to lower drawbridges. In Lanayru Desert, the majority of the puzzles are based around the “Timeshift Stones” which, when struck, will turn part of the immediate area from a desolate desert into a vibrant landscape, causing enemies, switches, equipment, and even land formations to form so you can progress. Many puzzles require you to carry a Timeshift Stone around or placing it in a specific area to lower one barrier while activating another, which is quite a unique and creative mechanic that really makes you think about how to tackle puzzles. All of these puzzle gimmicks and mechanics are revisited in the game’s final area, Sky Keep, which also features a unique and annoying gimmick that sees you rearranging the different rooms of the temple to open up new paths and acquire the three pieces of the Triforce.
Graphics and Sound: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword certainly looks impressive; this HD version of the game has potentially upscaled the graphics to make everything very vibrant and moody, when necessary, and the game employs an aesthetic style that merges the fantastical realism of Twilight Princess with the cartoony presentation of The Wind Waker. In addition to having dialogue options during some conversations, Link continues to showcase a variety of facial expressions to help flesh out his otherwise silent character, and you’ll be hearing a lot of gibberish (mainly from Fi) when talking to others. Otherwise, there is no voice acting here, as is to be expected from a Zelda title; some dialogue can be sped up by pressing B and you can skip some cutscenes entirely by pressing the – button, but it can mean you’re left a bit clueless afterwards. Although each region is populated by unique NPCs, many of which are new to the series (such as the Ancient Robots but, while Parellas replace Zoras, Gorons are still present in the game), you’ll find the vast majority in Skyloft. Here, you can chat to Headmaster Gaepora, buy, sell, and upgrade items in the market, and will come across Link’s obnoxious rival, Groose, whose pratfalls and antagonism eventually turns into heroism as he helps aid Link’s quest to rescue Zelda.
The game also features an appropriately operatic score that includes new renditions of the iconic Legend of Zelda main theme and versions of memorable tunes such as “Zelda’s Lullaby”; when you engage with enemies, successive strikes also speeds up the tempo of the battle music to help keep the adrenaline pumping and each area is nicely punctuated by both ambiant sounds and a fitting soundtrack. Skyloft is an impressive starting area and a pretty large central hub; you’ll find rooms to sleep in to pass the time and replenish your health, the market, a graveyard, and a practice hall to work on your sword techniques. While the Sky is basically just a barren void, there are small islands and rocks floating around that you can visit to find chests, mini games, and a prominent side quest centred around the Lumpy Pumpkin establishment. Shafts of red, yellow, green, and blue light will point you towards the three main regions and wherever you’ve placed a marker, and you’ll need to dodge Octoroks spitting rocks at you and tornados that will blow you off your Loftwing. The inside of the Thundercloud is initially best by storms and lightning and home to both one of the more annoying push puzzles in the game and the decidedly Wind Fish-like Levias, a gigantic whale that flies through the sky and clears the air after you free him from the parasite that has infected him. Although it’s possible to advance and alter the time of day by sleeping in beds, this rarely factors into the main plot, but it does turn Skyloft from a safe, vibrant location to a dangerous area as enemies spawn in under the cover of darkness. Similarly, when taking on the four Trial Gates, the immediate area takes on a darker, more ethereal quality as shadows become more prominent and glowing magical barriers bar your progress.
The game’s three main regions are based around classic Zelda tropes such as the forest, volcano, and desert, while also incorporating themes like water, wind, and time into their later areas. You can create shortcuts in each but pushing logs and mine carts, blowing up rocks, or grabbing levers to open gates (and also using your new weapons), but the areas will fundamentally change as the story progresses. Faron Woods start off as a kind of confusing wooded area that leads onto a cliffside leading to the Skyview Temple, a water and bug-infested cave or sorts, is home to a great tree, and also leads to a flowing river that takes you to Lake Florina (which later floods the woods) and the Ancient Cistern, a kind of steampunk-like Temple whose golden Oriental aesthetic hides a scary underground area. Eldin Volcano is full of lava and steep hills for you to run up while avoiding boulders tossed by enemies; enemies also wait atop wooden columns that you can knock over with bombs, and you’ll run around on a spherical rock, lobbing bombs are walls and trying to not burn your ass in the Earth Temple. Later, the whole area is covered in ash as the volcano erupts and you need to sneak around and recover your gear, avoiding spotlights, and douse face statues with water to gain access to the Fire Sanctuary, where you’ll be digging through the dirt with the Mogma Mitts. Lanayru Desert sees you racing across quicksand, using the map and markers to avoid sinking, activating three power generators to raise the Mining Facility, an area which springs to life with the Timeshift Stones to reveal conveyer belts, wind-powered platforms, and all manner of mechanical obstacles. You’ll also use one of these Timeshift Stones to safely cross the Sand Sea and ride the Rickety Coaster’s insane mine cart, and awaken the long-dead dragon that resides in the Lanayru Gorge.
Enemies and Bosses: Longtime fans of the franchise will recognise many of the enemies that crop up in Skyward Sword, most of which are tailored to the game’s new combat system; Deku Babas and Bokoblins, for example, need specific horizontal or vertical swipes of your sword to dispatch, and this is carried through to tougher enemies like the Lizalfos and Stalfos. While you can easily mow down the bat-like Keese and Chuchus with reckless abandon, you’ll have to factor in elemental variants that will electrocute or burn you, you generally can’t just swipe away at enemies; you’ll need to either cut down Beamos columns and stab them in the “eye” or shoot an arrow at them from afar to destroy them, reflect back Sentrobe missiles with well-timed swings of your sword, run up and over Moblin shields to attack them from behind, drag Furnix to the ground with your Whip, blow the spinning magnets atop the Armos’ heads with the Gust Bellows to expose their weak spot, and toss water on Magmanos to turn it to stone and chip away with your sword. Enemies become tougher and more prevalent as the game progresses, causing less dangerous areas to become more hazardous as shield-carrying Moblins wander about and archer Bokoblins take shots at you from above; these latter can also call in reinforcements with horns, carry bombs, and even take on a zombie-like appearance to cause even more bother.
Naturally, each of the game’s Temples is home to a sub-boss as well as the main boss. These are often newer, tougher enemies that soon become part of the regular ensemble you encounter, such as the Lizalfos, Moblins, and Moldorms. Lizalfos can be tricky to defeat as they swipe at you with their tails, guard against your attacks with their armoured arms, and breath fire, but you can parry their attacks to leave them open to your attacks, which is a system that serves you well for other sub-bosses like the Stalfos and its four-armed cousin, the Stalmaster. You can use a similar tactic against the two skeletal pirates, LD-0016 Scervo and LD-003D Dreadfuse, who swipe at you with a sword and hook hand and try to force you back into a spiked wall as you try to sever their limbs and force them off a narrow walkway. Easily the most recurring (and frustrating) sub-boss is “The Imprisoned”, a gigantic beast who you must defeat three times, with each battle getting harder and adding new wrinkles. The Imprisoned can only be hurt by attacking its toes; slice off all eight and you then have to frantically run around it to attack the sealing spike in its head, but it causes shockwaves with each step, crawls around in an invulnerable state, tries to climb upwards, and even flies in later encounters. Groose is on hand to help you in the latter two battles; you can switch to him to catapult bombs at the creature to stun it, and will need to perfectly fire Link at the creature’s head to finish it off for good before it can reach the Sealed Temple, which will cause a game over and force you to begin the fight all over again.
Another boss you’ll encounter numerous times throughout the main story is the game’s primary antagonist, Ghirahim the Demon Lord, who serves as the boss of the Skyview Temple, Fire Sanctuary, and the penultimate boss of the game. Ghirahim is perhaps one of the most frustrating boss characters I’ve ever fought as all of your weapons and tactics are useless and must be set aside for patience and well-timed strikes; Ghirahim can easily block, avoid, parry, and even steal your sword while tossing hard-to-avoid daggers at you, charging in for big damage, and teleporting all over the place. However, you’ll notice that he mirrors the position of your sword; so, if his hand is on the left, lure him in and strike from any direction other than left. When he teleports, roll or dash away and hell get stuck in the ground, leaving him open for a flurry, and you can utilise the same tactics as with Stalfos and the Stalmaster and strike at him wherever his swords aren’t positioned when he brings out his own blade. You can also interrupt his charging attack with a well-timed strike, but these can be pretty tough battles though, ironically, I actually found the final encounter with him to be the easiest of the three (potentially because I had actually figured out how to fight him by this point). This is a three-stage encounter against Ghirahim’s true form that you must wade through a hoard of enemies to even get to; you start off on a magical platform and must perform shield parries to expose the glowing jewel in his chest that can only be damaged with stabs. Hit a few to knock him down to the next platform and perform a Fatal Blow to deal damage and trigger the next phase, which sees him busting out his daggers, and his final phase where he shields himself with a gigantic sword. However, you can chop away at this with repeated swipes of the Master Sword to leave him defenceless and finally put him down for good soon after, which actually makes for a pretty exhilarating final battle against the so-called Demon Lord.
Outside of these fights with Ghirahim, you’ll also have to contend with some pretty inventive, if a bit aggravating, boss battles. The insectoid Scaldera awaits at the end of the Earth Temple and sees you rolling bombs into is rocky hide, and gaping mouth, while avoiding fireballs (and getting blown up yourself), to crack its outer shell and swipe at its exposed eye. Moldarch awaits in the Lanayru Mining Facility and Lanayru Shipyard; this giant scorpion clamps you in its pincers and swipes at you with its tail, but can be hurt by swiping at the eyes in its appendages. When it burrows under the sand, you’ll need to blow the sand away with the Gust Bellows to get it to emerge so you can stab it in the face. Koloktos guards the Ancient Cistern and is probably the first most visually interesting and mechanically engaging boss battle; you basically need to avoid the blades it tosses at you and dodge out of the way when it swings its swords at you, and then use your Whip to detach the arms and use one of the dropped swords to slash at its legs and main body. Eventually, it starts to attack more aggressively, meaning you’ll need to use the nearby columns for cover, and you’ll need to slash at its repeatedly with its own weapon to cut it down to size and finish it off. The Cthulu-like Tentalus attacks the Sandship, smashing its squid-like tentacles through the hull, flooding, and capsizing the boat and leading to a dramatic confrontation in the storm swept deck of the ship. You’ll need to run about avoiding the tentacles as they burst through the deck, or slice them in half with a Skyward Strike, then avoid being swatted by them to shoot an arrow into the beast’s eye to down it and slash at it with your sword. When Tentalus switches to the upper deck, it lashes at you with its Medusa-like hair, which you must wade through with sword slashes to get the final blow on the massive sea creature. After enticing out Levias with a massive cauldron of Pumpkin Soup, Link must chase after the gigantic whale on his Loftwing, charging into the eye-ball tentacles that sprout from its hide, before landing on its back and battling Bilocyte. This is easily the easiest boss battle in the entire game and simple requires you to reflect Bilocyte’s projectiles with swipes of your sword, then attack its head when it gets stunned.
After defeating all of the game’s bosses, travelling back and forth, and collecting everything the plot requires you to get, Ghirahim kidnaps Zelda and flees through the Fate of Time to the past, where he sets a whole hoard of enemies against you that you must wade through before battling the Demon Lord for the last time. Even if you’re victorious though, the Imprisoned rises one last time and begins absorbing Zelda’s essence, allowing the demonic Demise to be reborn. After dispatching Ghirahim and reverting him to his natural form of a sword, the malevolent demon transports away to another dimension to await your final challenge. I recommend preparing yourself for this final battle, and saving your game, before following Demise and engaging with him in a one-on-one sword battle with two phase; first, you need to keep your guard up and parry Demise’s attacks to leave him momentarily vulnerable to a sword swipe. Demise will occasionally charge at you, but also keeps you on your toes with fake-out attacks, but the main issue you’ll have here is timing your parries properly and not letting your shield break. In the second phase, lightning strikes all around, charging both Demise’s sword and yours; holding the Master Sword aloft will let you charge it for a Skyward Strike, which will both counteract Demise’s own energy beam and stun him long enough for you to strike. Ultimately, it’s not a particularly difficult battle, but the atmosphere and music definitely help to make it quite engaging, it’s just a shame that it involves so much waiting and strategy. While there is no boss battle in the Sky Keep (beyond rematches with some of the sub-bosses), you can unlock a boss rush, of sorts, after resurrecting and restoring Lanayru the dragon. Lanayru allows you to battle every boss in the game (aside from Levias and Bilocyte) in succession, with only the items he held when he first fought them, or playthrough the Silent Realm challenges again in order to earn rewards such as Rupees, treasures, a Heart Piece, or the indestructible Hylian Shield.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: As you embark on your epic quest, a wide variety of recognisable pick-ups and power-ups are at your disposal; slashing bushes, pots, rolling into trees, and defeating enemies will yield hearts to refill your health and Rupees, which can be spent buying new gear, potions, and upgrades for your gear. You’ll also find Stamina Fruit scattered all over the place, which will refill your stamina meter, and Goddess Cubes, which can be dispelled with a Skyward Strike and allow you to open special chests all over the place and gain more Rupees or treasures. I recommend scooping a fairy up in your bottle so you can restore six hearts upon defeat and you can buy potions for your empty bottles, which will replenish your health or stamina meter, but you can’t permanently upgrade the stamina meter, acquire new tunics, or learn any magic. Defeating bosses will yield a Heart Container, and you’ll occasionally find Heart Pieces all over the place, four of which will also increase your maximum health by one heart.
Each of the games dungeons includes a new weapon for you to add to your inventory: the Beetle allows you to pilot a little mechanical beetle to hit switches, defeat or stun enemies, and drop bombs; the Clawshots let you grapple to vines and specific targets (and even disarm enemies); the Whip lets you pull switches and swing from certain hooks; you can roll or toss bombs to blow upon certain rocks; the Digging and Mogma Mitts let you dig up collectibles or burrow underground; the Slingshot and Bow let you shoot at enemies and targets from a distance; and the Gust Bellows disorientates enemies and lets you move platforms or blow away sand. You can also buy new gear from the market, such as extra bomb bags and quivers to increase your maximum capacity, shields to defend yourself, and a Bug Net to capture bugs that can be sold in Skyloft. As you explore, you’ll find a variety of treasures that can be used to upgrade your gear in Skyloft to increase their damage or range. Furthermore, key items like the Water Dragon Scale and Fireshield Earrings allow you to swim and withstand extreme heat and you can also purchase expensive extras from Beedle to increase your adventure pouch, expand your wallet, and spawn additional health among other things.
Additional Features: There are sixteen different treasures and twelve bugs to find throughout Skyward Sword, in addition to twenty-seven Goddess Cubes to activate, thus awarding yourself additional Rupees and gear. There are also twenty-four Heart Pieces to find, which will extend your maximum health to twenty hearts, and a number of side quests available to keep you busy. The owner of the Lumpy Pumpkin will have you ferrying hot soup, collecting pumpkins, and playing the harp with his daughter (both extremely tricky mini games) in order to make up for damaging his property, the Thrill Digger has you digging in specific spots for Rupees, and you can dive for Rupees after fixing up Fun Fun Island. You can also rapidly slice bamboo sticks with your upgraded sword and shoot arrows at pumpkins for additional awards, but the most prominent side quest is the pursuit of “Gratitude Crystals”. After finding a lost girl in Skyloft, the cursed Batreaux asks you to help others to earn these crystals and bring them to him to receive big Rupee rewards, a Heart Piece, the biggest wallet available, and also restore him (as in Batreaux) to human. These crystals are earned from helping NPCs in various ways, such as bringing a scrap of paper to a mysterious man in a toilet, bringing medicine for a wounded Loftwing, and repairing the fortune teller’s crystal ball. After completing the game for the first time, you can create a new save file that allows you to play through in “Hero Mode” where the enemies are tougher and shuffled about and neither enemies or pots will drop hearts, making the game much more challenging (although the Skyward Strike does instantly charge).
The Summary: After struggling to get to grips with, and properly enjoy, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD, 2017), I was somewhat excited to finally get the chance to play Skyward Sword, a title I had long avoided as I have no desire to play any game, much less a Zelda game, using purely motion controls. Although it took me a little while to adjust to the analogue-based combat and camera controls, both of which are a little clunky due to the control mapping, I found a lot to enjoy in this game. The focus on using specific sword swipes to defeat enemies and bosses made this a very unique Zelda experience, but did make the combat a bit awkward at times, especially with the reversed controls. The visual presentation was very good, but I do feel like many of the areas are much too empty and restricted; since the game’s set in a world of disparate islands above the clouds and a surface accessible only from specific points, it didn’t really feel like a large, interconnected world and reminded me a little too much of the wide, largely empty ocean from The Wind Waker. Flying on the Loftwing was fun, and the boss battles were very engaging and inventive; even the battles against Ghirahim, despite being frustrating at times, were interesting as it required more than just slashing at them mindlessly but the game really lets itself down with the constant back and forth. I feel like it might’ve been better to have areas like Lake Floria as separate as the other regions, just so that the world felt a little bigger and had a bit more variety, but continuously having to revisit the three main regions again and again find something else in each area quickly became repetitive and disappointing, even when the areas visually changed. The lack of tunics and customisation options for Link was a shame, though I felt the game had a better balance between the stamina meter and destructible items compared to Breath of the Wild, which went way overboard in those aspects. Ultimately, there’s a lot to like here and it’s a perfectly enjoyable Zelda title, but, despite being visually superior, I think I still prefer Twilight Princess as it did a much better job of crafting a large, interconnected fantasy world with a lot of variety and a better mixture of new and old gameplay elements.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Have you played this HD version of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword? How do you feel it compares to the original Wii release and were would you rank it amongst all the other Zelda titles? Were you a fan of the motion controls and the switch to a vast world above the clouds? Which of the dungeons and bosses was your most, or least, favourite? What did you think to the constant back and forth between the same areas? Which of the Silent Realm trials was the hardest for you? Were you able to find all of the bugs and treasures? Which Zelda game is your favourite and how are you celebrating the franchise today? Whatever your thoughts on Skyward Sword, sign up to leave a comment below, or let me know on my social media.
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