Super Smash Bros – THE BEST

So I’ve had nine posts so far and haven’t even mentioned Super Smash Bros. How despicable.

Out of all the games I ever played on Nintendo 64, out of all the ones I revisit and just can’t bear to live without, this one takes the cake.

It’s a little disturbing to say, but the truth is I could probably talk about Super Smash Bros for several days. A thesis probably wouldn’t be long enough.

But the point of this blog, contrary to what my posts might suggest, is not to bore my wonderful readers to tears. Instead, I want to remind (and may even introduce) the world to some stupendous vintage games. And somehow yapping on and on about every little detail in this game is not going to make that happen. Instead, this post is simply about the best of Super Smash Bros – the characters, the courses and the items.

The Best Characters

Pikachu

Some people have a few characters that they switch between – some courses are better suited to Donkey Kong, others are easier to survive if Kirby is under your command. But out of all the characters, there was only ever one for me. Pikachu, my favourite electric Pokemon is one of the smallest, fastest fighters Super Smash Bros. has to offer. Its ability to zip through the air makes it a difficult target to hit, which can be extremely frustrating for any opponents. I can’t forget to mention Pikachu’s classic thunderbolt move – pressing the down and b button at the same time. It sends nasty opponents reeling in a very rewarding way.

Link

He was another useful character in the game. His sword, deadly as ever, makes it easy to strike enemies first at close range. Factor in the boomerang as well, allowing Link to attack enemies from a distance, and taking their stock is like taking a baby’s candy.

Kirby

What is a review of Super Smash Bros without Kirby? If being kicked and punched by a cute little ball (with unproportionately large feet) is not enough, he can always eat you. And not only is that one of the most humiliating misfortunes this game has to offer, but also one of the most annoying. Just like the other Kirby franchises, this super-fighter Kirby can also gain your abilities (kind of like Ditto from Pokemon).

The Best Courses

Lylat Wars

Although one of the simpler courses of the game, this course will always hold a special place in my heart. And I have no idea why.

Fighters face each other on a large space plane from the game Lylat wars (see Lylatwars – A Clichéd Classic). Its pretty easy to keep track of fighters and other dangers here, as there is not too much going on to cause confusion in the heat of battle. The only thing you have to watch for is smaller fighter planes, which shoot laser beams at you whenever they come near you. How helpful of them.

Saffron City

The highlight of this course is the coming and going of different Pokemon. A hatch opens up at different intervals of the fight, revealing a different Pokemon to cause even more havoc on the high-rises of the city. Charmander’s fiery breath is a little toasty, and Chansey’s healing powers provides a welcome relief in this fight to the death.

The Best Items

Beam Sword

This weapon is great when you are facing a particularly quick enemy. With some characters, by the time you get close enough to an enemy to throw a punch, Mario has already sent a fire ball flying in your direction. Other times, Yoshi has already turned you into a white and green spotted egg. Never fear – the beam sword puts an end to these problems. You can use it to slash at enemies from a distance, with each hit delivering an delightful level of damage.

Hammer

The best item in this game, without a doubt, is the legendary hammer. Snag this item, and you are able to charge around the course, whacking everybody who gets in your way with this painful weapon. It causes a lot of damage upon impact (which isn’t really surprise, when you consider it is a giant hammer), and makes killing a walk in the park.

Not disturbing in the least.

Convinced yet? After writing this, I’m just itching to dig out this game, and give it one more go.

If you haven’t played Super Smash Bros, you’ve really missed out. Hours and hours spent walloping, punching and otherwise clobbering the stuffing out of Mario, Donkey Kong and Ness can never be replaced.

Childhood well spent?

You betcha.

 

If that wasn’t enough for you, do a quick search in YouTube for Super Smash 64 – there are some awesome fighter videos to check out that will get you in the mood to battle it out one more time. If you prefer knowledge over bloodlust, http://www.mariowiki.com/Super_Smash_Bros. this might be  better choice – tells you everything anyone would ever need to know about this super duper game.

Lylatwars – Cliched Classic

The Lylat system. This small group of planets enjoyed years of prosperity. The inhabitants lived in peace. That is, until Andross came into view.

Consumed with hatred, Andross declared war on the Lylat system. Slowly, Andross has taken control planet by planet, and is now advancing on Corneria, whose army alone is not enough. In this hour of need, the Star Fox team is called upon to save the system from Andross’ evil clutches!

 

Clichéd? Yes. Passéd ? Not quite. Done to death? Not a chance.

 

When I first played Lylatwars, I wasn’t particularly excited, just because I’d never heard of it before. It was just another game. I mean, I’d heard of Mario Kart and Banjo Kazooie – they were classics that my friends never seemed to stop talking about. I was burning to try those out. But Lylatwars? What was this game?

To me, it was just one of those generous freebies that came with the console, and most of those are one-play wonders.

I wouldn’t call Lylatwars one of the revolutionary, game-changing releases for Nintendo 64. It was no Ocarina of Time, Mario Party or Donkey Kong. But, for me at least, it came extremely close.

 

In the game you control Fox, leader of the Star Fox team, dedicated to destroying evil Andross’ forces. For most of the game you operate a fighter ‘arwing’ (although sometimes you use a ‘landmaster’, a specialised kind of tank). You play through the level, shooting laser beams at oncoming enemies while trying to keep your rather unhelpful team alive. Then, at the end, you face the level’s boss.

 

Out of all the bosses, my favourite was the one in Meteo, the asteroid level. This boss looked something like a monkey, and attacked the Star Fox team from a gigantic spaceship. He’s easy to defeat – just shoot the little yellow squares while avoiding his attacks (which are completely predictable, even for someone like me who really struggles with boss fights). But, when you shoot the last of his HP to smithereens, there is something so satisfying about the monkey’s ship explosion that wants to make you cheer. It is also one of the few times you get to hear Fox speak.

“Sorry to jet, but I’m in a hurry!”

 

Other memorable levels include Fortuna, where you must defeat Star Wolf and cronies before a bomb blows the base you are trying to save. And even if you do run out of time, its not game over, its just a way to take a different route through the Lylat System. They constantly make snide comments at Fox and his team, which are frustrating at first, but grow funnier as you hear their juvenile remarks over and over.

 

Surprise, surprise, I always found the scariest course the last course, the aptly named Venom. Hoards of enemies come at you from every direction. As soon as you defeat one wave, another is ready to take its place. You enter a temple, and chase a strange robot made of pyramid bricks through the hallways, reminiscent of an Egyptian pyramid. You have to stay alert though, as there are plenty of obstacles, especially as the pyramid robot starts throwing things at you. Quite rude, really. And from there the final level gets weirder, from racing down a dangerous pipe to fighting a giant projection of Andross’ ugly mug.

 

One of the downsides of the game, however, was the multiplayer mode. Up to four people could play as different members of the Star Fox team, either working together or against each other. In short, it was an adapted battle royale. There’s nothing wrong with the idea – it fuels competition and produces rivalry. But there’s nothing special about the idea. It has a seen-it-before hint to it (like the plot of the game). More items, courses and a varied amount of enemies (all relatively simple additions) could have added dimensions to the game which could have made it a classic. Of course those kinds of things, easier now than they were in the 90s, could be added to any new versions of the game – say if Lylatwars was to be rereleased on the Wii. If that happened, I think it would be time to empty my wallet once more. 

The Simpsons Game – Trouble in Springfield

So far, I’ve reviewed a lot of games that I love. You know, the classics that you fall in love with time and time again. But, not all the games from the past are hidden gems. There are a few that lack the quirkiness and novelty that are central to the greatest games of all time.

Personally, I’ve always found video games based on movies or television shows a bit of a let-down. Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc., awesome films on the big screen, were transformed into much less-than-perfect games on the small screen. I played those games on the Gameboy, and although they weren’t exactly horrible, they were not great either. They just weren’t the sort of game you’d take time to revisit. The same goes for the Simpsons game.

As a young kid living in Melbourne, the Simpsons was the show you couldn’t go without. All my friends knew of the family’s wacky exploits – adored Bart’s mischievousness, laughed at Homer’s IQ and cringed at Marge’s croaky voice. I always remember my favourite episode being the one where the family moved to Terror Lake to escape from Sideshow Bob. But instead of killing his nemesis, Bart, all the villain managed to do was entertain Bart with singing and stand on a heck of a lot of rakes.

So, when the Simpsons game was released, it seemed to be the perfect addition to my collection. Set in Springfield, featuring all your favourite characters from the series, complete with superhero powers to aid them on their mission.

Homer, fuelled by his insatiable love of food, turned into a gigantic ball. This was useful when it comes to knocking over enemies, or when you needed to become airborne to reach a tricky switch. Bart became Bartman, complete with cape and slingshot. Controlling him wass bit of a highlight for the game, as you get to listen to his commentary. Entertaining in the least.

Lisa also has some quirky powers, born from her interest in Buddhism. She moved obstacles within the game, which can be a little time consuming for the avid gamer, yet remains a unique addition to gameplay.

For some weird reason, I had this idea in my head that Marge’s power was nagging. I’m not entirely sure why I remembered it to be that way, and was very disappointed to find out that it wasn’t the case. Incapacitating enemies by merely nagging them would have added to the comedic value of the game, without a doubt. Despite this, Marge’s power in the game is slightly similar to her power I cooked up in my own bizarre imagination. In the game, Marge wields a megaphone, which allows her to control a ‘mob’. She can make people join the mob, and she can make them do her bidding – from building things to help you progress to attacking pesky enemies. It took a while to get the hang of using the megaphone, but once you do, its strange to think you ruled Springfield without it.

Some of the levels themselves are quite clever, and several of the cut scenes bring a small smile. One of my favourites happened at the very beginning of the game, taken from the episode were Homer is dreaming about chocolate, and dances around the chocolate village with a chocolate bunny (as you do). Its interesting to explore the village from the television series in the game, but it lacks the detail which could have made it a true adventure.

Similarly, if you were expecting the comedic value of the television series, chances of disappointment are high. I suppose its difficult to incorporate the kind of entertainment you experience from watching television into interactive entertainment. You have to give EA games credit for their work – it wasn’t as if the game was a complete failure.

Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe it was because I never really liked the gameplay provided by Playstation. Maybe I just wasn’t dedicated enough to give it a proper shot. Who knows?

Sometimes, when I get pretty desperate, I give the game another shot. I find that little yellow disc and wipe the dust off my Playstation 2. But its never a good idea. It never ends well – my family can tell you that.

The Magic School Bus: Education 90s Style

Seatbelts, everyone!” declares Miss Frizzle.

“Please let this be a normal field trip,” pleads Arnold.

“With the Friz?” asks Wanda.

No way!

Space, the arctic, inside the human body. Miss Frizzle’s students have seen it all. The television show was a hit during its time – many schools used it for educational purposes and many kids watched it in their time at home. But television shows and books were not enough. As a result,, the Magic School Bus interactive game was born. Several titles were released in the 90s on the PC, a time when Windows 95 was still the way to go, one gigabyte of memory was a decent specification and floppy disks were all the rage. It’s no wonder then that the video games in those days are very different to what they are today (consider the recent upgrades to graphics, story depth and loading time). Despite the massive improvements we have seen since the Magic School Bus first made it to CD-ROM land, this game is still hoot and a half.

In this particular version of the game, it’s time for Miss Frizzle’s students to learn about the rainforests. Arnold, Phoebe, Carlos and company board the Magic School Bus, accompanied by their eccentric science teacher and helpful Liz the lizard.

Wahoo! The Bus grows giant butterfly wings and sets off into the skies, only to land in the middle of a Costa Rican rainforest. As you do.

From there, the player gets to explore the rainforest through the eyes of the students. Completing various mini-games of different degrees of difficulty, they learn more and more about the delicate ecosystem. The game is divided into three sections, consisting of the understory, leafy middle and the canopy. Each area has distinct animal life, which users need to investigate in order to fill the gaps of Miss Frizzle’s rainforest toolbox. I remember one of the highlights of the game was watching the rainforest grow inside the classroom. With every missing sample the user the found, the more Miss Frizzle’s classroom became a little leafier and wilder. And there was only one way to fill up the box of rainforest samples – explore, explore and explore some more.

Another part of the game I loved was the way users were able to follow the students in their adventures, as they were the same students featured in the television show and the books. Their personalities, developed through these other media platforms, transformed well into the interactive version. Arnold was always worried and frightened, wondering aloud why he hadn’t stayed at home. Carlos told is very bad, very ‘punny’ jokes wherever possible, to the dismay of the class. All in all, these distinctive features built the game and made it a memorable addition to the franchise that is still remembered today.

Many brands of games are able to keep up with the times. Mario was born on the original Nintendo consoles but has aged well, still defeating his nemesis Bowser via the Nintendo Wii. Likewise the Sims started off with excruciatingly basic features in the late 80s, yet has managed to incorporate multiple dimensions into the more recent additions, as well as new releases scheduled for 2013 (such as Sim City). Of course the ability for companies to do this largely financial, as these games aren’t cheap things to produce, and money does not grow on trees (unfortunately). Despite this, it would be simply awesome for the Magic School Bus to release a new series of video games, introducing the younger generation to an eccentric way of learning. Magic School Bus titles have been released on Nintendo DS and the Leapfrog educational system, they are relatively few in number. With the recent leaps we have seen in technology and video game world, the features of the games would be lightyears ahead of the originals, and the education and entertainment experience would something to behold. Even as a young adult, with a busy timetable and everything, I might be able to find the time to try it out, and relive my childhood once again.

Wahoo!

 

To check out an interactive website which will really be a step back in time, investigate over here

http://www.scholastic.com/magicschoolbus/

Pokemon Snap: Hunter Turns to Stalker

Any self-respecting Nintendo lover would recall the classic gameplay of the Pokemon franchise. The adventure starts when you receive your first Pokemon. Equipped with Professor’s Oak’s strangely empty Pokedex and a humble collection of Pokeballs, you leave your town to challenge the Elite Four and collect ‘em all. Made popular on Gameboy, there are several spin off versions of the franchise released on Nintendo 64, Gamecube and much more recently, the Wii.

 

Pokemon Snap, a spin off designed for Nintendo 64, manipulates the traditional catch ‘em all motto. In the Gameboy version, players caught Pokemon by using a variety of Pokeballs. That is to enter the Pokemon’s details into the Pokedex, you had to own it at some point in the game. You had to catch, buy, trade, evolve or raise it in a day care centre. But Pokemon Snap turns the world of documenting Pokemon upside down.

 

Instead of controlling a trainer with a head full of fame and courage, you control Todd Snap, aspiring photographer. Following from that, the goal of the game is revealed: taking photos of Pokemon. And not just any photos. Oak, like any scientist, is absorbed in his work. He wants photos of every type of Pokemon, interacting with others and their natural environment. Instead of wanting you to hunt Pokeman, Professor Oak effectively asks you to stalk them.

 

At first, Professor Oak doesn’t assist your stalking capabilities very well. He provides you with a simple buggy, the Zero One, which you use to travel around the different landscapes. Its not until you produce some results that Oak rewards you with some sophisticated stalking equipment (sophisticated for a ‘90s Nintendo game, at least).

 

Because there are only four items in Pokemon Snap, each one has a unique advantage in capturing the perfect shot. Special smelly balls, officially called Pester Balls, are very good at flushing out the shyer Pokemon. From back in my ruthless younger days, I remember throwing the Pester Balls at the Pokemon like there was no tomorrow. There was a definite joy in watching little Pikachus fizzle and spark with growing anger. Of course, there were more humane ways of interfering with the levels. Throwing food near bushes encouraged more Pokemon to come out of hiding, and playing the flute often resolved in bizarre dancing. There was also a special dash function, where you could speed on ahead to catch a rare glimpse of the tricky critters. But, for one reason or another, none of these items were as rewarding as the smelly balls.

 

Aside from irritating Pokemon with Pester Balls, another highlight of the game was the interactivity with the Pokemon. This game, rather than the traditional battle modes of Pokemon Red, Green or Yellow, gave the little critters some personality. They were no longer tools, destined to be stored in a Pokeball or PC until you reset the game. Instead, through Todd Snap, you were able to observe them in a fairly natural habitat. You can see Meowth’s cheeky personality in action as it provokes other Pokemon. Forcing Charmeleon into the lava produces a livid Charizard, which makes you glad you only have to take pictures of it, rather than having to fight it.

 

Sure, Pokemon Snap wasn’t the thing to feature Pokemon personalities (Meowth and his greedy coin obsession immediately comes to mind from the anime). But the thing is, those other platforms of television and comic books were far from interactive. Pokemon Snap provided an exclusive insight into the Pokemon universe. And what was more, it did this at the height of its popularity, taking advantage of every Pokemon pushover in Nintendoland. Me included.

 

As much as I try not to admit though, Pokemon Snap was not a perfect game. One of the disappointments of the game was the lack of playable levels. With seven in total, it is not long before you have explored every level, and snapped the large majority of Pokemon featured in the game (especially as only 63 of the original 151 were included). It would be awesome if Nintendo could remake this classic – including more levels, more Pokemon and items for greater variety in its gameplay. It was a successful game for its time, but it didn’t reach its full potential.

 

Despite this flaw, it still remains one of my favourites. Set in the Pokemon universe, yet revitalising the classic gameplay. 

Yoshi’s Universal Gravitation – The Future is in 2004

So far I have focused on classic Nintendo 64 games. Although this is probably the greatest console ever known to gamer-kind, it is not the only platform in existence for awesome old-school games. For variety’s sake, this post is all about my favourite game-boy game, Yoshi’s Universal Gravitation.

I remember when I first saw it on the shelf of a video game store. Yoshi, the little green dinosaur, was balancing on the cover, in front of a cheery yellow background. Intrigued, I picked it up and began to read the blurb in the back of the box. As soon as I saw the words ‘tilt control’, I was hooked. The technology seemed so futuristic, it was unreal. Of course in today’s fast paced world, tilt technology is considered a very basic feature (think of the way smartphones adapt to landscape or profile views, or iPod touches use tilting for turning in gaming apps). But back in 2004, before phones had evolved and tightened their grip on humankind, the technology in Yoshi’s Universal Gravitation seemed revolutionary.

Overall, the game was not a very popular one. After a quick Wikipedia search, we can see that its article is disappointingly short for a Nintendo title, and contains little information. Thinking back to when I first bought the game, there was little information on the World Wide Web about the game too, particularly when it came to walkthroughs or hints. Although this was back in the day when the internet was not as informative as it is now, the links for Yoshi’s Universal Gravitation were much fewer than other game boy titles, such as Mario Kart. As a kid who spent countless hours mastering this game, this was something I couldn’t understand.

Thing the thing that makes this game so unique is the tilt sensor, built into the game pack. In order to progress through the levels, the player has to tilt their Gameboy, so that the orientation of Yoshi’s storybook world is able to be altered. This allows Yoshi to walk up the side of walls, swing pendulums, and roll enemies away. Because of this, there are countless ways for the creative player to defeat enemies and pass through the trickier stages of the game. It’s an extremely creative addition to the Nintendo franchise.

I found one of the highlights of the game to be reaching the coins above the pirate ship. They are located high above the mast – far too high for Yoshi to reach by jumping. Instead, the player must tilt their game boy in order to get the ship swinging, keeping the rhythm going until they have enough momentum going to complete a 360 degree turn. Other novel uses of the technology occur when Yoshi undergoes one of his transformations, and becomes a hot-air balloon. Tilting is used to guide Yoshi back to the safety of the ground, avoiding dangers and collecting coins on the way.

The idea for the tilting originates from the fact that the game’s tale is told within a storybook, which has been seen in previous Yoshi adventures (i.e. Yoshi Story). Because of the similar setting, the graphics are quite similar in the Gameboy game to the Nintendo 64 platform. However, I always considered the game to have a very similar appearance to Paper Mario. As both games essentially take place with a storybook, many of the characters have similar qualities. For example, Bowser is represented as a 2D enemy, which is similar to Mario and companions in the Nintendo 64 game. It was this reminder of Paper Mario, coupled with tilt control, which contributed to this title being one of my favourite Gameboy pastimes.

Paper Mario 64, the Italian’s 2D Adventure

Unfortunately, I was never privileged enough to on Paper Mario on Nintendo 64. As a result, every time I went to the local video store, I scurried over to the video game section. My eyes combed through the colourful titles until I found one of my elusive favourites.

 

The scenery is what makes Paper Mario such a unique addition to the Mario universe. Using an interesting twist, the story takes place inside a book. The characters, items and the environment are essentially two-dimensional. Aesthetically, it gives the game a very cute feel, and as a youngster, this was one of the major appeals for me.  

 

Paper Mario is a solely single player adventure, where the hero once again sets out to rescue the damsel in distress. However what was unique about this adaptation was the way in which Mario completes his journey.

 

Compared to other Mario classics (think of Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64), Mario as a paper crusader is reasonably evolved for ‘90s game. For, in the classics, Mario defeats his enemies by jumping on them. Although a hallmark feature of the series, this attack strategy becomes problematic when his enemies’ powers progress (for instance, jumping on a spikey koopa never ends well). To compensate for this drawback, Paper Mario employs a variety of quirky weapons and ‘helpers’ when he engages with an enemy. What is more, the game uses a distinct method of battling enemies compared to other Mario games. For example in Super Mario 64, when the plumber encounters an opponent, he can run up to it and jump on it. Sometimes multiple attacks are needed for success. But if the enemy strikes back and the skirmish becomes too dangerous, Mario can always run for his life. However fighting works a little differently in this game. When Mario attacks an enemy (or if he is particularly unlucky, gets attacked by an enemy), the gaming scene changes and they enter a battle stage. This battle stage is particularly reminiscent of the Pokemon franchise, where players have turns to inflict damage. This is like a breath of fresh air from the classic Mario games, as they player can use strategy coupled with gaming prowess to defeat enemies. When I first played the game, I found this way of fighting a little tricky to grasp. But, the more experience you have with the system, the easier and more natural it becomes. There is a slight downside to this way of doing things, however. As this fighting method is more time-consuming than the standard jump attack, it can discourage users from wanting to attack enemies (this of course sounds peaceful, but it also means that the player is preventing from being rewarded with crucial coins or other items). Overall, this battle system is a positive contribution to the game, but I am a little glad that not all Mario titles incorporate it.

 

The other nifty thing about this game is Mario’s helpers. He wanders (or sort of bounces, like an overexcited puppy-dog) around various settings with a fighting partner in tow. These partners are all characteristic of the Mario universe. They have unique abilities, and some better suited to particular environments than others. Mario’s first partner is Goombario, a little brown Goomba sporting a blue cap. Although his battle skills are fairly rudimentary (i.e. headbonk, somewhat similar to Mario’s jump), he is indispensable in the earlier stages of the game. My personal favourite character, however, is Parakarry. A flying delivery koopa, he can lift Mario for short distances, which can be especially useful when it comes to teasing, out of reach items. Lankilester (the koopa in the cloud) can also do this, but doesn’t join Mario’s team until much later in the game. And unfortunately, when you are only hiring the game from the video store, it is difficult to get to this level of the game very often.

 

Hopefully this summary will re-spark interest in this exceptional game. Of course, gamers may not experience this particular version, but maybe you guys might want to have a look at the later versions – featured on Gamecube and Wii. Happy gaming guys!

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