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 I collected 71 stars and rushed towards Bowser so I can finally put this respectable but outdated game behind me.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

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review

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  1. Excitement
  2. Accomplishment
  3. Plateau
  4. Drop off

Every Animal Crossing player goes through the same steps at their own pace. I’m on step 3. I invested over 125 hours into Animal Crossing: New Horizons and I still feel good about checking in on a regular basis. I am not making the headway that I expected nor is my island anywhere near as pretty as I hoped it was, but I’m okay with this. Animal Crossing: New Horizons landed at just the right time and has given me and many others a sense of routine and progression.

There’s technically a built-in goal that triggers the rolling of credits, but there’s still a lot more game to enjoy and experience. I wanted to build more bridges, arrange more landmarks, and furnish my multi-story house with weird and wonderful furniture.

My criticisms of Animal Crossing: New Leaf still ring true with New Horizons. The menus could be friendlier to navigate, repetitive dialog continues to plague players, and the general flow of everything is still as deliberate and plodding like it always is. New additions like crafting and terrain customizations give Animal Crossing big shakeups but all these features will be worn down by the Animal Crossing ethos. 

The lack of interactivity may not be a new gripe for long time fans, but it’s quite strange when there’s absolutely no interaction with certain objects. I can dive into the ocean after the July 2020 update, but I cannot do a damn thing with this hot tub that I just crafted. 

I was okay with the fact that Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a game about gathering items in the service of decorating. I decorated my island, my house, and my character. The real time aspect of the game continues to amuse me for days, weeks, and even months. Nintendo already released regular events and patches that introduced new content and functionality. Unfortunately, while they all satisfied the definition of new content, they don’t always satisfy. Re-adding the ability to swim and dive in the ocean is amusing, but taking photos for a pair of llamas? Not so much.

There are no surprises in Animal Crossing: New Horizons; players will know whether this appeals to them or not. How long before you reach the drop off point will depends on your level of patience. My fiancée went through all four steps within three weeks. There was so much excitement that she even considered getting a Switch of her own. I’m still puttering away on the island for the both of us. It can definitely be better, but at the same time, I also like it for what it is.

Verdict:
I like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Luigi’s Mansion 3

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We did it! It took months and months, but we finally finished Luigi’s Mansion 3. 

Minor correction: I finished Luigi’s Mansion 3.

My fiancée and I started Luigi’s Mansion 3 together late last year and we chipped away at it for months before I finally wrapped it up in early June 2020. Why did it take so long? A number of fundamental issues contributed to a rapid descent in interest.  Needless backtracking and growing frustrations with the controls during boss fights were primary factors.

The game made a wonderful first impression with its charming visuals and highly interactive environments. The ability to vacuum up nearly everything in the world was both impressive and fun. We would discover hidden secrets and coins which rewarded our desire for exploration.

Solving puzzles with the flashlight, UV light, and manipulation of world objects via the Poltergust vacuum amused for about a third of the game. Then we were asked to backtrack to older levels to chase down a ghost cat. They disrupted the game’s momentum by delaying the next piece of new content. We devoured each hotel level; we vacuumed up very inch of each level before we moved on and then they asked us to revisit those levels and look for this ghost cat by vacuuming up stuff again.

We collected a lot of money as a result of all the vacuuming. Unfortunately for us, we had nothing worthwhile to spend it on. There were purchasable hints for other collectibles, but that was it. I would have loved an upgrade mechanic or costumes for Luigi; something fun to cash all this currency for.

It started to feel like a drag but we pushed forward. We were amused by Luigi’s reactions to the antics surrounding him. We had fun taking down the early boss fights and figuring hidden tricks of the spooky hotel. The boss fights started out as wonderful caps to finish off each level, but they gradually became increasingly annoying. I never felt 100% comfortable with the controls and I’ve been playing all manner of console games for decades. Some of these boss fights required a level of finesse that these controls did not reliably deliver. These encounters transitioned from fun victories to frustration laden slogs as we repeated fights due to minor execution errors. 

I wrapped up the last few levels of Luigi’s Mansion on my own. My fiancée had checked out and gave me the blessing to finish it on my own. Since I initially played a large chunk of the game co-operatively, the switch to controlling both Luigi and his slime clone, Gooigi, was a bit awkward. It felt fine when I was simply exploring the levels, but it felt unnatural during combat. I stumbled my way through the last few levels and managed to defeat King Boo after a handful of tries, but was left dissatisfied with the gameplay.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 held a lot of promise early on and I was disappointed to see it fail to deliver on that promise. If they axed all the backtracking, included meaningful rewards for exploration, and tweaked the boss fights to accommodate their controls, I think my fiancée and I would have seen it through together. In the end, I was left playing with myself and that felt weird.

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

Pokemon Sword Review

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It took me a while but I finally figured out that I only like Generation 1 Pokemon games. I tried Pokemon Sun but bounced off it. I finished Pokemon Sword but was desperate for the credits towards the end. I realized that I enjoyed Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee a whole lot more than this game and it was all due to nostalgia.

Pokemon Sword was fine. The Galar region was well crafted and filled with many touches inspired by England. Large open spaces gave the region scale like I’ve never seen in a Pokemon game before. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how many spaces I was able to enter and explore. Sure many homes were carbon copies of one another, but it was still an appreciated detail that made each new town/city seem massive.

In-between the major city hubs were wild areas where Pokemon roamed. It was a neat idea that should have been leveraged more. More game could have been wrung out of it but instead I found myself just blitzing through most of it after capturing what I could at the time. The desire to “catch them all” is the primary reason to tread and retread these areas. Different Pokemon will appear depending on time of day and weather. I explored and hunted around these parts for a bit but I just didn’t have an affinity to these newcomers to revisit often.

I pushed forward and wrapped up Pokemon Sword in just over 30 hours. By the end, I was desperately pushing through the final series of battles with sheer brute force. I relied on Hyper Potions, Revives, and a trio of over-leveled Pokemon to carry me to the end credits.

I wasn’t driving forward for story reasons, I just wanted to see the spectacle. While the story was a snore, the spectacle was not. Every Dynamax moment or Gym Leader battle was awesome. Pokemon never felt so grand and I think they nailed the atmosphere of those battles. I just wish the story was as captivating.

As straightforward as the story was, I felt the gameplay was a bigger offender. Earlier Pokemon games leaned in on the game aspect of this series with weird areas like the secret Team Rocket bases with teleporters and conveyor belts. There were caves and other areas that felt like puzzles with TMs and other treats hidden within. The Galar region was noticeably more grounded coming from Pokemon Let’s Go and the Kanto region. There was little to no figuring out in this game. It all felt too straightforward.

There’s fundamentally nothing wrong with Pokemon Sword. In many ways it’s superior to its predecessors. Battles are more complex than ever. The Pokemon are more complex. The Gym Leaders are stylish. The spectacle is more grandiose. But I just felt it all didn’t resonate with me like Pokemon Let’s Go did. It took me a couple of games as of late but I finally realized that I’m not a Pokemon fan. I’m just a fan of Pokemon Red/Blue

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

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