SM3DA: Super Mario 64 Review

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It finally happened! I finished Super Mario 64 courtesy of Super Mario 3D All-Stars on the Nintendo Switch. I collected 71 stars and rushed towards Bowser so I can finally put this respectable but outdated game behind me. 

I was initially very impressed with Super Mario 64. Nintendo improved the user interface, increased the resolution, and steadied the framerate. They were appreciated improvements, but I eventually discovered that those improvements were not enough to make Super Mario 64 palatable in 2020. 

The lack of precise camera control reared its ugly head very early on. There were a number of options to cycle through, but there were numerous moments where none of those options were ideal. Early levels that didn’t feature many bottomless pits or a large number of moving objects were mostly fine. I would only need to make the occasional minor shift to the camera. However, it was a true test of patience in levels like Rainbow Ride where I was cycling through the motion of making jumps and flipping through less than ideal camera angles. 

When I was triple jumping and running around in the relatively gapless spaces of the early levels, the finicky controls did not bother me. As Super Mario 64 began to demand more precision and sticking Mario in tighter platforms with bottomless pits underneath, then the touchy controls began to annoy me to no end. Some state that this isn’t much of a problem with the N64 controller and if that’s the case, Nintendo should have done more to adjust the Super Mario 64 in this 3D All Stars collection. 

Even if the controls worked well, I felt that the developers went too far towards making a realistic Mario instead of a fun Mario. What’s the point of having Mario crawl? What’s the point of having him perform a U-turn when he turned around? Why did he suddenly decide to slide on his belly on steep inclines? Why did he even have punch or kick attacks with pathetic range? I felt these decisions were made because they could. Nintendo wanted to explore and experiment with Super Mario 64 which resulted in many lessons learned for future games. 

The castle serving as a hub was initially charming and twee. Jumping into paintings to enter different levels and spaces was a clever conceit that invited and rewarded exploration. All the good feelings evaporated away as I pushed deeper into the castle and bumped into the “game over” screen. Having to restart outside of the castle every time I restart the game was annoying. Having to catch the stupid Haunted House Boo every single time I wanted to play that level was even sillier. All these initially charming elements quickly got in the way of the fun.

I respect Super Mario 64, but I do not like it. I found it fascinating in spots, but was overwhelmingly frustrated by a majority of it. I wouldn’t miss this game if it suddenly deleted itself from the package because I do not see myself returning to collect the rest of the Stars. Perhaps I’m unfairly harsh, but this is the game Nintendo decided was good enough to put in a $79.99 package in 2020. They thought it was good enough to stand on its own without significant changes; I’m saying they were wrong.

Verdict:
I didn’t like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Final Fantasy VI (SNES)

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I started Final Fantasy VI at least three times now. I started it a couple of times via PC SNES emulators of the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it was the third time on the SNES Classic where I finally saw credits. It took me about 35 hours to conclude that it was “okay”.

The game started very strong and maintained a great pace until the World of Ruin. I loved meeting the new characters, seeing the new places, and the escalating absurdity of Ultros. The soundtrack was on point from the very first minute and was the timeless highlight of the entire game. It far outstripped the visuals which I found a bit dodgy in spots. Mode 7 was all the rage back then, but it did not age well at all. The same could be said with a lot of the more realistic looking backgrounds.

Chrono Trigger is the gold standard for JRPGs from the SNES era for me — especially from the visuals standpoint which I found to be very cohesive. The characters, the enemies, and the backgrounds all fit well in that classic. By comparison, Final Fantasy VI looked like they had three different artists with three divergent styles creating the backgrounds, enemies, and heroes. When they decided to mash them together, the results were inconsistent at best.

I decided to play the game with a revised translation by the Final Fantasy VI Relocalization Project because I wanted minimize the dated nature of this game. The translation patch also included bug fixes (and introduced a minor text based one) along with small rebalances, but I still found many of the characters hugely overpowered and too useful to not use. Edgar, Celes, Sabin, and Cyan were my A squad. They took down Kefka. I only used other characters because there were situations where I was forced to manage three squads of characters in epic battles or to solve environment puzzles. 

Relm, Gau, Setzer, and Strago were effectively useless without magic spells so I invested time rotating characters and assigning them different Espers so they could become viable in combat. I ended up with a well rounded team where everyone can heal or revive. They weren’t all as effective as Celes, but being able to have anyone cast Arise was a bit broken.

Unfortunately, like I have done so with many JRPGs, I found myself fairly under-leveled during my run up to Kefka. I was able to fell just about every boss encounter with ease except for him. I remedied that with a couple of hours of farming, but it wasn’t fun. 

I also found the idea behind Active Time Battle’s Active mode silly and stuck with Wait mode. Trying to navigate a poorly organized list of spells isn’t my idea of fun. Inputting fighting game motions in a JRPG? That was fun. I still found the idea behind Sabin’s Blitz commands to be the highlight mechanic of the game. He was a powerful or risky character to pick depending on your own proficiency with command inputs which is not something we saw much of after Final Fantasy VIII. Even then, the commands in that game didn’t ask players to pull off half circle or 270 degree motions. Oh, and they didn’t explain how input those commands so there was a lot of early trial and error.

I haven’t relied on an FAQ or walkthrough for just playing a game in ages, but Final Fantasy VI brought that back in a major way. There are things that just aren’t explained well even when you read through thick manual. Speaking of manual, the one included in Final Fantasy VI reads more like a mini-walkthrough than a manual. It even spoils a bit of the story.

Despite its shortcomings towards the latter act of the game, I’m glad I finally finished Final Fantasy VI. I was happy to have finally experienced its wonderful soundtrack in context. I enjoyed many of the battle scenarios; they made good use of the large cast of characters that many other games in this genre do not. I liked the idea of the World of Ruin, but it quickly felt like someone threw a carefully arranged deck of cards and then the game made me play 52-card pick up. It had a few bright spots, but that final chunk of the game felt like a depressing slog which is kind of fitting considering what happened.

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Call of Duty: World at War

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I had no interest in Call of Duty: World at War back in 2008. After the excellent Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, I did not feel the desire to go back to yet another World War II first person shooter. No offence to Treyarch, but this was before they found their footing with the Black Ops sub-franchise. I had little to no faith in their ability to deliver something that was comparable to Modern Warfare. And now, many years later, I finally played it and I was right.

I dusted off the PlayStation 3 Slim, grabbed our copy of Call of Duty: World at War and finished the campaign on Veteran difficulty for the very first time. It didn’t age well. The portrayal of the Japanese, the way the campaign was structured, and the over-reliance on numbers to build intensity made for a dated game. It felt older than Modern Warfare even though it debuted a year later. 

Kiefer Sutherland lent his voice Corporal Roebuck, a plot armor wearing grizzled soldier who didn’t even feel the need to wear a helmet. I found the American half the campaign ran out of steam very early. There’s only so many ways to say “The Japanese were fierce fighters who fought dirty”. I also had my fill of mowing down Japanese infantry as they charged at me while screaming “Bonzai!”. It got old. 

The Russian campaign against the Germans felt like it was most influenced by Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare campaign. There were moments of intrigue, and tension built as Reznov lead me through the war torn streets of Stalingrad. There was even a named villain. Reznov kept things relatively interesting with his speeches imploring his fellow Russians to continue the fight against the Germans.

Call of Duty: World at War was a very ugly game. The relatively high framerate made it playable, but it’s just a very unpleasant game to look at with its grimy textures and sub-720p resolution. Treyarch’s decidedly more gruesome take on Call of Duty resulted in a lot more blood and gore than other Call of Duty titles before and after it. While the techniques used to convey the violence of war was primitive, I found it somewhat effective. The combination of  gross visuals, death screams, and the discordant soundtracks worked to successfully deliver an uneasy sensation towards war. 

There was not much “fun” to be had with Call of Duty: World at War. Playing it on Veteran difficulty may have forced me to suffer through some excruciating gameplay segments for longer than I cared to admit, but outside of the one “Vendetta” mission, I struggle to recall other moments that I would describe as “neat” or “interesting”. At least this game had some redeeming qualities compared to the otherwise stale rendition delivered by Call of Duty: WW2. While WW2 was more playable and more appealing to modern tastes, it failed to deliver on the brutality of the war experience on a moment to moment basis; it didn’t evoke dread like I felt while playing through World at War. I wouldn’t recommend either, but if I had to choose one, it would be this one. 

Verdict:
I didn’t like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: SUPERHOT

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I knew I wanted to play the full SUPERHOT game after trying SUPERHOT TEAM’s prototype. It looked striking and played unlike anything I played before. It felt like an interactive puzzle shooter where lightning fast reflexes were cast aside in favor of methodical decision making. However, I don’t know why it took me so long to sit down and actually finish the game.

I was given a couple of free copies of the game (Prime Gaming and Epic Games Store) and even started the game a couple of times before I finally pushed through. My reluctance to commit to the game stemmed from the way it was presented. The terminal chats and Matrix-inspired story took a while to grab me and even when it did, it was a tenuous connection at best. I don’t know how to improve on the packaging, but it was far too easy for me to just walk away after each set of levels. 

It was quickly evident that SUPERHOT was a bit of a one trick pony. The scenarios and situations changed, but the mechanics didn’t evolve beyond the initial set of rules:

  1. Time moved when I moved.
  2. I can shoot and throw weapons.

New weapons were introduced, but it was fundamentally the same game that I was presented in the prototype. There weren’t any bad levels, but there were plenty of filler levels that didn’t change it up enough. Some of the more memorable levels were towards the final quarter of the game where they ratcheted up the challenge. 

I think SUPERHOT was at its best when I’m trying to figure out how to navigate a barrage of bullets and swarms of faceless baddies as they attack me from all angles. Dying and retrying until it finally all clicked was a rewarding loop. The kernel of the game was muddied by the set dressing and framing of its story, but it wasn’t terrible; it just got in the way. The idea behind SUPERHOT was truly unique and will continue to stick with me for years to come. However, I didn’t need to play the game to come to that conclusion; that prototype conveyed that same message without the fluff. 

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

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