Before I get into Super Mario Galaxy, first a word about Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. It’s worth mentioning that I played, and thoroughly enjoyed, SM64 as a kid and did not cross paths with the other two until the Switch release. So even though revisiting SM64 made me fully aware of how bad the camera was and how difficult it was to control ninja Mario, I still enjoyed the second play through and finished it. It’s easier to visit old games that don’t age well if you are already connected to them.
Super Mario 64
Check out my write up on SM64 where I revisit the classic 24 years later.
Super Mario Sunshine
As for Super Mario Sunshine, I’ll keep this short, as I didn’t have much patience for this game. Sunshine feels like the improved SM64 in that controlling Mario is easier and more predictable, it looks better, the camera is greatly improved, and there's an added twist with the water canon. Here’s where it lost me:
Super Mario Galaxy
Moving on to Super Mario Galaxy, my first reaction to this game was that it holds up extremely well both in terms of visuals and controls. My second reaction was that I was feeling quite sick to my stomach and I would make for an awful astronaut. Thankfully I was able to quickly adapt to the twisting, turning worlds and became rather comfortable walking upside-down.
SMG is extremely intuitive. It all just clicks. Mechanics, power-ups, and three-dimensional challenges slowly unfold to allow you to ease into the complexities of this game. Subtle aim-assist and movement assisting keeps the focus on fun over frustration.
There’s a harmony between pressing buttons and swiping the screens. It should be chaos yet it works with ease.
The spin move is artfully implemented. It’s a multifaceted tool that acts as an attack, an interaction maneuver (e.g. screws), a propulsion boost in water, and an extra oomph after jumping. That final usage, spinning in air after jumping, is actually quite genius as it’s what allows the player to safely navigate to landing pads as it softens the jump while also lifting.
There is so much rich, brilliant, innovative level design and use of three-dimensional space throughout the galaxy. The boss battles, of which there are plenty, are fairly simple yet always fun. And there’s a clever mixture of activities, spaces, puzzles, and upgrades, making it so that no level is like any other.
Tilt mechanic based levels such as surfing and golf don’t overstay their welcome. I would easily be frustrated by these types of levels if I was asked to collect 3-7 stars while tilting my way through bumpy waves or riding a ball on a precarious, narrow field. Instead the designers set up these levels to be one-and-done, a wise move on their part.
Much like SM64, and much unlike SMS, Galaxy is gracious with the 1-ups, and even strategically placed them in areas that are most dangerous. The creators recognize that punishing the players with limited lives is not fitting in this series.
Tutorials are cleverly camouflaged and well-integrated. For example, when first moving on ice a cute penguin challenges you to catch him. This allows you to get your feet wet (pun intended) before tackling the level. You never feel like you are being told what to do, and because the controls are so intuitive and finely tuned, picking up a new mechanic comes with ease.
The camera, which you would expect to be the biggest challenge in developing such a topsy-turvy 3D experience, works beautifully. It locks and adjusts to predetermined angles for most of the levels while allowing for freedom to manually rotate only in those areas where appropriate. It always feels right, focusing your attention on the path ahead with just the right amount of edge space to plan ahead.
SMG is a visual spectacle. It’s simply dazzling. I found myself frequently hitting the screenshot button on my Switch as Mario soared through the starry fields that were painted vividly with swaths of purple and blue tones.
There's also a ton of attention to detail and polish that went in to enhancing the visual experience. For example, if you spin near friendly characters they will gyrate in excitement.
There’s just enough story elements running throughout the adventure to keep it anchored in the narrative without interfering with the fun. And familiar staples to the Mario universe are sprinkled throughout the game who drop hints and add charming dialogue.
The deeper you get the richer the experience becomes. Levels become more complex, more characters appear, different star types are located, planets can be revisited with new challenges, the story unfolds, and more and more Mario power-ups are discovered. This is a game that only gets richer and more flavorful the more you play.
My only hope, now, is that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is quickly brought to the Switch.
In the Summer of 1996 I was 15 years old. One afternoon I wandered into the local Blockbuster (RIP) to browse the used video games they had for sale. That's where I first crossed paths with Super Mario 64 (and the Nintendo 64 for that matter), which was prominently displayed on the large demo machine near the entrance. At this point I had already developed a bias against 3D video games, not because of some perceived, inherent inferiority to two dimensions, but because in their pioneering state they were so aesthetically unappealing. I saw them as a new phase in gaming that simply wasn't ready for consumption. So when I approached the demo and lifted the Nintendo 64 controller I did so somewhat begrudgingly. It took about 5 minutes before I was hooked. Once it arrived at my home I devoted a weekend to acquiring all 120 stars, my eyeballs glued to the screen.
24 years later I revisited SM64 on the Nintendo Switch. Quite quickly the mechanics and acrobatic maneuvers came back to me. And while the blurry textures and blocky world looked even blurrier and blockier than memory, the dated piece that made me cringe and grumble the most was the camera. Back when 3D games started, solving for the camera was always a hot topic, and was so for years. In so many of these early 3D games the camera would collide with walls, zoom in and out unexpectedly, and unhinge left and right as the player traversed through the world. It was a time when providing two camera styles plus the ability to zoom in and out was considered groundbreaking. It made me wonder: If it wasn't for my nostalgic ties to SM64 would I have tossed this relic aside?
While the camera is clearly the worst aspect of SM64, it's the combination of the camera and the looseness of Mario's movements that cause the most pain. This is a platformer, albeit a more open world version of one, and with platforms comes pits. What this translates to is countless perilous moments where I am on the brink of reaching my goal just to end up slipping off a narrow, jagged polygon. I suspect I died just as much 24 years ago as I did with this recent play-through, but the difference is that way back then I interpreted these moments solely as challenging, whereas today I see them as both challenging and frustrating.
Camera and slippery Mario aside, this game is still extremely playable. It's such a delight to control the ninja flipping Mario and to collect stars within the expertly crafted levels. The designers smartly placed a variety of challenges in each course, and while they hint to what star to search for next, they left it up to the player to discover them in the order that they please. And each environment has its own special flare and theme, so moving between courses always feels fresh.
Next up I have Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. I'm told that the former has similarly frustrating camera and control problems, and since I have never played either of these games this will be an interesting test to see if I have the patience to play SMS all the way through. Here we go.
Metroid: Rogue Dawn is the unofficial, fan-produced prequel to the original Metroid. Unlike most ROM hacks (ugh, there's so many bad Castlevania ones...) this is a high quality experience that takes the foundation it is built upon and expands on it greatly.
Before I get into the details that make this such an excellent game and expansion on the Metroid world, first let’s look at the physical release that I opted for. Purchased from RetroGamesRemastered, an operation that produces physical releases of ROM-hacks and retro gaming rarities, the Metroid: Rogue Dawn print has everything you need to feel like you are back in the 1980s opening a fresh, crisp Nintendo game. Here’s what’s included:
It’s even shrink wrapped so you can feel like it just came off the shelf at your local Toys"R"Us (RIP). The map provides you with the opportunity to take notes for places to revisit, or if you are like me and can’t stomach the thought of defiling the glossy fold out, it’s something you can scan and print copies of before you scribble on to your heart’s desire. The manual is short and sweet, with details on the story, items, and some helpful tips.
As for the game, the attention to details shines:
Sadly, the days of Nintendo Power are behind us, where we would seek out hints and tips for NES games. Sure, there's this thing called the internet now, but for a niche ROM-hack like this I didn't see a ton of helpful information published out there. So, without spoiling anything, here are some strategies I found to be quite useful:
This is a must play for any NES fan. For those that grew up with the NES it will instantly transport you back to your childhood, regardless of if you have a physical copy or not. Next on my list is Another Metroid 2 Remake.
Darkwood is a top-down perspective, horror video game where the protagonist is stuck in a creepy forest of which there is seemingly no way out. He must explore and scavenge for goods while battling horrific creatures. Shelters provide some protection from the demons of the night, and mysterious characters offer clues to his escape.
Whereas shelter-in-place is something we are all too familiar with in this COVID world we are forced to exist in.
I found some striking similarities between this game and our current landscape:
I’m only on chapter 2 so I suspect more parallels will unveil themselves later. Stay safe out there everyone.
This is Moon:
Recently I picked up a handful of Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, as I was in need of games I could quickly pick up and put down while juggling a newborn. While I had an original Game Boy as a child I had only a couple of games, making this unexplored territory for me. After playing each I commemorated my experience with a haiku. Some snarky, some celebratory, and others simply about the mood and impression the game imprinted on me.
Baby Luka joined the world on July 16th, 2020. Leading up to his birth we prepared. We read books and articles (especially my wife), we learned from our friends, and we got the house ready. Everyone tells you that no matter how much you prepare you have to learn on the job, especially because every baby is unique. This is absolutely the truth.
Six weeks into our journey I am reflecting. This is my way to both remember this moment in time and guide others so that they can be just a little more (mentally) prepared.
I won’t tell you about particular techniques like the 5 Ss or other principles and tactics. There’s plenty of well-documented materials on these subjects already out there. And while I will argue that no amount of books will fully prepare you I do encourage you to read up so that you have a base level understanding. I personally found the courses and books to be informative.
The stuff they say you need and the stuff you later discover
There’s so much stuff that people say you need and we did extensive research prior to our birth date so that we could have the house armed and ready for the little terrorist. We were lucky to receive a ton of hand-me-downs and gifts, and our friends and family helped us understand how all the various tools work.
First, here are all of the items we had ready before the baby arrived:
When it comes to free stuff, besides hand-me-downs we also received a ton of goodies from the hospital. Make sure to bring an extra bag with you, kind of like what Michael Scott did on The Office when he went to on his business trip and brought an extra suit case just for souvenirs. Here’s some of the great stuff they hooked us up with, much of which you will want to get if you aren’t as lucky:
So we looked prepared, right? Well, there’s more stuff we later discovered we needed (or at least very much wanted). Here’s the list:
The falsehood of sleeping when the baby sleeps
You’re going to receive a lot of advice that won’t always pan out. Take it all in and recognize that not everything will work in your favor. And likewise keep in mind that something that works one day won’t necessarily work the next. You’ll experiment in search of the holy grail just to discover that there is no perfect recipe. This isn’t a mystery to be solved. This is a marathon. This is about endurance.
People will tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps. That this is your chance to make up for all those interrupted moments late at night. What they won’t tell you is that it’s not as simple as “baby sleeps, so I sleep”. In reality, babies grunt a lot when they sleep, so at night when you sleep near them, your quality of sleep will decrease. Plus, if you’re like me, that sound machine that soothes him will have the reverse effect on you.
When it comes to you trying to nap during the day, even with two parents working full time to serve the tyrant king, you can’t expect to always be on break when he goes down because while you were spending all that time cleaning, feeding, changing, soothing, and agonizing over the baby, a multitude of chores have amassed. So you scramble. You clean all of the bottles, empty the diaper pail, toss in a load of the baby’s soiled laundry, scrub that spit up from the couch, and reset the pumping station. And that’s just the baby’s stuff. There’s plenty to still do for the house. Perhaps the house is in disarray and you accept this as a temporary state of turmoil. Even still, you need to empty the dish washer, get groceries, satisfy the grand parents with photos texted their way, feed yourself, use the bathroom, and, if you are lucky, try to squeeze in some exercise. All this is to say is that his down time does not 100% equate to your down time, so mentally prepare for this. And if you are like me and my wife, telling your brain to shut off for a nap, despite how utterly tired you may be, holds no guarantees.
There’s another factor: the baby doesn’t always sleep on its own, particularly in these early months. The first 3 months of life are what are known as the 4th trimester where the baby is most at peace when you emulate womb like conditions. When it comes to sleep during the day, this may mean that he just wants to be held. Since it’s unsafe to sleep while the baby is attached to you this means you might as well use the time to get those previously mentioned chores done. Thankfully there is a cheap and effective device to make this a hands-free operation, and that’s the Boba Wrap. For us it works like magic, as it essentially mimics the womb which makes the baby king very pleased. Very pleased indeed.
I’ll keep this brief, as there’s just too much to say here and the journey isn’t over yet. Long story short, our baby is an inefficient eater. He takes far too long to get full, is a fussy eater, and the advice we received from various professionals would fall flat time and time again. We ended up having a tong-tie procedure performed that may or may not have helped a little.
We received lactation consultation over the phone, email, and Zoom, due to COVID-19, and needless to say this is a service that can only go so far via virtual means. After hitting many dead ends we finally were able to find an in person LC, though we remain to see if their advice will reap any benefits.
The good news is that our baby is growing. We just have to feed him longer and more frequently than one should, which is frustrating for both the parents and the baby.
I’m sure I have more to say. I just can’t remember or think clearly any more. My brain is mush. Even now I write this as quickly as possible as the time-bomb ticks in his stroller that we were too scared to take him out of prematurely.
Despite the complaints it is worth it. You will be frustrated and exhausted, and then out of nowhere he will surprise you with a smile that will melt away all of your anxiety.
My top advice is to be patient. Be patient to your partner, to your baby, and to yourself. A wise man once said “Take care of yourself, and each other”.
Good luck out there.
More quick reviews.
I usually don't think to capture a screenshot when deeply immersed in a game. From time to time, however, something strikes me enough and I hit that capture button. Here's just a few of my favorites.
Brian Riggsbee lives in San Francisco CA. He enjoys practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, creating art, gaming, chasing adorable dogs, and spending time with his wife and boy.