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:
Brian Riggsbee lives in San Francisco CA. He enjoys gaming, writing, creating art, practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, chasing adorable dogs, and spending time with his wife and boy.