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.
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.
More quick reviews.
The Last of Us 2 is an incredible narrative masterpiece. It’s difficult to put into words the range of emotions that this experience whipped me through, and how it left me feeling scene after scene. I gasped, jumped, smiled, and cried. I found myself hating then empathizing with characters, and likewise, completely siding with others to later question their motives. By the time I came out the other end, the deeply complex character motivation was grounded to my core, and I took on the burden of their affliction. I felt battered and scarred, identifying with characters for the deep pain of their experiences. It’s easily one of the absolute best narrative experiences I have come across.
The writing was extremely clever. They inserted parallels in a way that only enhanced the story, never cheapened. They artfully employed “show, don’t tell” in a way that unveiled information in the most engaging rhythm. And while I was a little hesitant at first to be playing as Abby in the second half, I came to realize this wasn’t just to tell the other side of the story, but to have you feel how complex the situation and people are in this series of painful events. It allowed me to go from initially hating Abby to just feeling hollow and sad for everyone.
As for the gameplay, I found the enhancements and additions to the original title to be sufficient. Yes, it was similar. That’s ok. The prone position added a new dynamic to stealth that I enjoyed, some new weapons kept combat feeling fresh, and hand to hand fighting (and dodging) felt gritty and real.
The environments were truly magnificent. The Naughty Dog artists and designers continue to blow my mind. The joy of gazing on the environments, by itself, is enough reason for a second play through.
And then there is the polish. I always felt immersed into this world. Sure, you can tell it’s linear and “level based” when you run up against the edges of the environments, but there isn’t not much to be done about that.
In the days that followed my completion of this experience I continue to ponder the story. A true sign of a great work of art is when you have a lasting impression. It’s that feeling of when you walk out of the movie theatre and you spend hours rehashing what you just witnessed, and consider the deeper messages. When it comes to The Last of Us 2, there’s a ton of narrative elements one could parse out and overanalyze until the (real) world ends. Here are a few stand outs that really struck me:
Do you enjoy video game reviews but hate to read? I have you covered with these quick snippets. Enjoy.
Want more? Check out the previous sets of rapid reviews:
Rapid reviews is where I write quick snippets on games I've recently played, and use the word "rapid" as an excuse to justify bad writing. Also check out parts 1-5.
Check out parts I-IV for more rapid reviews.
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.