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200 Best Nintendo Games (Part 6) – Touching is Good

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Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 were massive hits, and had taken the lion’s share of the market. Nintendo couldn’t compete with them directly anymore, and had to change their approach — enter the Nintendo Wii. The idea of gaming had changed forever, as the Wii introduced a remote controller that detected movement in three-dimensions, producing games that relied on the player’s physical motion rather than button pressing. It was a massive success: the Nintendo Wii outsold both its console rivals. The legacy of the Wii lives on in Nintendo consoles today, with the Nintendo Switch using similar motion detection technology.
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250px-Wii_Fit_Trainer_SSB4Part Six: 2006 – 2010

143) New Super Mario Bros. DS
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo DS
Release: NA: May 15, 2006
Genre(s) Platforming

Nobody does a throwback quite like Nintendo and New Super Mario Bros. is no exception. This game is packed with all of the lovely Mario-isms that properly filled any happy childhood, but with a little more graphical panache. It also adds two great new power-ups to the fold in the Mega Mushroom (which appropriately enough makes Mario into a massive, screen-shaking, Goomba-crushing colossus), and the Mini Mushroom (which has the opposite effect of shrinking Mario into a pint-sized plumber). New Super Mario Bros. also gets bonus points for having one of the coolest Bowser encounters ever during the finale. All of the addictive platforming action that made the NES and SNES iterations so memorable returns in a game that reminds you that sometimes the best way to move forward is by going back. (Mike Worby)

144) Wii Sports
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Wii
Release: NA: November 19, 2006
Genre(s) Sports

It’s not often that a launch game does such a stellar job of showing off new hardware that it becomes the primary reason people want to buy the system. The beauty of Wii Sports lies in its simple, incredibly accessible design. At the heart of this is the first major implementation of motion controls in a video game. Gone was the seemingly insurmountable barrier of learning button layouts for those without prior gaming experience. Instead, all one had to do was mimic the motion of hitting a baseball or throwing a punch, and the game (usually) registered the player’s inputs.

The base concept of Wii Sports was later copied countless times by multiple third-party developers (and even Sony and Microsoft themselves). However, there were a few enduring design decisions that still make Wii Sports a blast to play today. For one, Wii Sports introduced the world to Miis — customizable character avatars that allowed players to insert a cartoony version of themselves into a game in a matter of minutes. Being able to play the sports as yourself and challenge the virtual representation of your friend, mom, brother, grandma, or whoever else makes the game that much more fun.

While motion controls have advanced considerably since Wii Sport‘s introduction in 2006, those first experiences of swinging the Wiimote like a golf club, or swiping it along the ground like a bowling ball, felt simply magical. Even when players eventually realized that the system could be cheated by using minimal hand motions, the fact that whole families could get together and have a blast playing virtual bowling was a true feat in both game and hardware design. Wii Sports managed to appeal to more non-gamers than any game ever has before, and continues to be used for therapeutic purposes to this day. In terms of cultural impact, it’s tough to argue against Wii Sports’ importance. (Brent Middleton)

145) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Wii, GameCube
Release: NA: November 19, 2006
Genre(s) Action-adventure

The adult Link portions of Ocarina of Time got gamers’ appetites whetted for a more badass version of the green tunic-wearing hero, one who could stand tall against the inevitable evil forces, and whose sword slashed viciously, cutting a swath through them. Wind Waker was not that, and though looked upon now as a masterpiece, its seemingly lighter tone at the time sparked a little rebellion. Fans of Nintendo’s legendary series were growing up, and just like with Star Wars or comic books, they wanted to hold onto their innocent past while also having it reflect their pragmatic present — they wanted something that kept in tone with their rising adult pessimism, something truer to the gloomy outlook that only comes with maturity. In short, as eventually happens with everything fun or innocent that fans go crazy for, they wanted something darker.

I was no different in those days, and so when the first images surfaced of Link wielding his blade from atop his trusty steed, surrounded by grossly disfigured moblins and bathed in eerie twilight, I was instantly sold. Twilight Princess is no kiddie quest with bright flowers and snot-nosed munchkins; there is war, pain and suffering, noble sacrifice, and trippy weird visions of greed, death, and super-creepy-looking laughing girls slowly descending headfirst from the sky. The land has been poisoned, and the people that populate it struggle against the shady sickness taking hold. A somber tone pervades throughout to the melancholy end, with few moments of true happiness relaxing in the goat paddock found in between.

Never has a Zelda game relied so much on imagery to set its tone, never have the dungeons been so vast and monstrous, and never has the journey seemed so mythic. Twilight Princess feels like everything Ocarina of Time wanted to be, a fulfillment of years of fan expectations. It hosts the best sidekick in the series, the widest assortment of attacks, some of the most clever dungeons (Snowpeak’s crumbling mansion, the Gerudo desert’s Arbiter’s Grounds) and unique items (magnetic boots = awesome, spinner surfing = sweet), and a massive amount of gameplay for those willing to explore every nook and cranny tracking down Poes and bugs. I personally have never bothered with Agitha or the golden Jovani on any of my many playthroughs, but it’s nice to know that there’s more going on in Hyrule than just the main quest.

With an epic setting accompanying the tragic feel, Twilight Princess gave fans exactly what they wanted, and in doing so delivered one of the most powerful entries in the franchise. (Patrick Murphy)

146) Elite Beat Agents
Developer(s) iNiS
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo DS
Release: NA: November 6, 2006
Genre(s) Rhythm

The early years of the original DS were the Wild West. It was a time before developers had figured out that most people like playing games traditionally, so everyone had to find a way to incorporate the touch screen into everything. A lot of interesting and great games came out of this short period of time, and Elite Beat Agents is one of those.

Elite Beat Agents is a spiritual successor to the Japanese DS title Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. Both games star cheer groups that help people with their problems by encouraging them through song. The primary difference is that Ouendan uses Japanese pop music, and Agents uses Western pop and rock. Both games are strictly about using the touch screen the to tap colored hit markers in order to build up combos. It looks and feels unique from other rhythm games, especially those that were out around 2005/2006.

Elite Beat Agents is a cult classic for sure, but its influence (or rather Ouendan’s) is huge. Ouendan had a sequel that came out following EBA, and there’s also a popular free-to-play PC game called Osu! that lets users make and share their own EBA-style levels with each other. Maybe one day Nintendo will take the dive back into music games, because the Switch seems like a perfect place for a new Agents or Ouendan title. (Taylor Smith)

147) Super Paper Mario
Developer(s) Intelligent Systems Nintendo SPD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Wii
Release: NA: April 9, 2007 / JP: April 19, 2007
Genre(s) Action role-playing, Platforming

Even if the idea to enmesh a strangely tragic love story into a Mario game doesn’t necessarily work terribly well with the general light-heartedness of the series, Super Paper Mario still manages to circumvent this handicap via sheer gameplay prowess. The notion of taking an inherently 2D series and introducing it to the 3rd dimension is inspired, and one that remains silly and charming even as the plot takes a series of predictable and overzealous turns toward its conclusion. While the story may suffer at times, the gameplay is only strengthened by the introduction of a screen rotation mechanism, which allows you to literally see the world in an entirely new way. Multiple playable characters and a lovable art style only add more value to this somewhat underrated gem. (Mike Worby)

Mother3148) Mother 3
Developer(s) Brownie Brown/HAL Laboratory
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance
Release: JP: April 20, 2006
Genre(s) Role-playing

Mother 3, like its predecessors, is a game out of time and place. Its pixelated graphics and standard turn-based battle system betray its 90s development roots, while its evocative script is more reminiscent of the heartfelt and contemplative indie games from the 2010s. What makes it a timeless classic, however, is its razor-sharp focus on our most universal sentiments and values that tie us all together, regardless of our superficial differences.

Starting off with a burning village and the death of a set of twins’ mother, Mother 3 takes the player on a grand external and internal journey. Playing the roles of lead designer, director, and writer, this is clearly the brainchild of auteur Shigesato Itoi. Like all his work, this third entry in the Mother series straddles the line between the dark and the whimsical. But this is arguably Itoi’s darkest game, telling a story of meaningful character growth versus selfish (and often ruthless) industrial and capitalistic “progress,” and in its nitty-gritty attention to detail, clearly communicated worldview, and empathetic style of play, it can almost feel like a “game for change,” with actual narrative depth and nuance. To this day, it remains an influential game even to Western developers. Games like Undertale play similarly with JRPG norms to show how much life there can still be in the supposedly stale genre if their creators are bold, brilliant, and deeply human enough.

This Japan-exclusive GBA classic from 2006 has yet to see a Western release, much to the chagrin of its diehard fanbase. Instead, those craving an end to the Mother trilogy have had to rely on an outstanding (but unofficial) fan translation online. Only time will tell whether or not we’ll ever see a proper Stateside release, but Nintendo has been on a hot streak lately, giving fans almost everything they’ve been asking for. Perhaps 2018 will finally be the year Reggie breaks out that Porky pin he’s been polishing for over a decade. (Kyle Rentschler)

149) Pokémon Diamond and Pearl
Developer(s) Game Freak
Publisher(s) The Pokémon Company
Platform(s) Nintendo DS
Release: JP: September 28, 2006 / NA: April 22, 2007
Genre(s) Role-playing

Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire almost took me out of the game. With too much water, too many HMs, little in the way of new mechanics, and my least favorite Pokémon designs up to that point, I thought that my time with Pokémon had come to an end. I had caught all of ‘em that I was ever gonna catch. Then news of Diamond and Pearl started to get out. As excitement built, I still felt my time with Pokémon was over. Cover art was teased, and people were selecting their game, but I still didn’t budge. Finally, my brothers told me to give it one more shot. They both wanted Diamond; they needed someone to help them complete the Pokédex by picking up Pearl. I eventually consented (I liked Palkia better anyway), and I am glad that I did. Pokemon Diamond and Pearl completely revitalized my love and fervor for the series. Five time periods of the day kept everything feeling variable, while the second screen Pokétch app, made possible by the Nintendo DS design, added a layer of convenience, not to mention that these games had Wi-Fi functionality for the first time. On top of the same great, addicting gameplay, an engaging locale, and some of the most inspired Pokémon designs since the franchise started, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl not only reinvigorated my interest in the series, but also rapidly became one of my favorite Pokémon titles of all time. (Tim Maison)

150) WarioWare: Smooth Moves
Developer(s) Intelligent Systems Nintendo SPD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Wii, Wii U (Virtual Console)
Release: JP: December 2, 2006 / NA: January 15, 2007
Genre(s) Party, Rhythm

WarioWare: Smooth Moves takes the fast-paced gameplay and bizarre aesthetic found in previous titles and improves upon it with fantastic motion controls and an addictive multiplayer suite. Each of the game’s 200+ microgames feels amazing using the Wiimote, especially when they are completed in rapid succession. While the single-player mode brings all of the creativity and the charm that fans of the series have come to expect, it’s the multiplayer mode that sets this title apart. As a party game, Smooth Moves gets everything right. The rules are kept simple and the gameplay remains just as engaging, making it a breeze for players of any skills level to jump in and have a blast. The microgames themselves are so random and strange that they are bound to elicit laughter after only a few rounds of play. It’s a title that is sure to be on rotation at social gatherings for many years to come. (Zack Rezak)

151) The World Ends With You
Developer(s) Jupiter/Square Enix
Publisher(s) Square Enix
Director(s) Tatsuya Kando
Platform(s) Nintendo DS
Release: July 27, 2007
Genre(s) Action role-playing

Bizarre doesn’t even begin to describe The World Ends With You. Developed by the Kingdom Hearts team at Square Enix, with character designs by the (in)famous Tetsuya Nomura, came a game set in modern day Shibuya, Tokyo of all places, where the stats of your gear are affected by the current fashion trends of the populace. It sports a mind-boggling battle system that not only requires the simultaneous use of touch and button inputs, but also simultaneous monitoring of both of the original DS’ two screens. Combine this with a hip-hoppin’ soundtrack that can only be remotely compared to the Persona franchise, and you have a game that sounds more myth than real.

But The World Ends With You is real, and the JRPG genre is better for it. While the battle system is akin to learning how to pat your head while rubbing your stomach while playing the xylophone with your feet and a harmonica with your mouth, it is an immensely rewarding experience once mastered that is entirely unique from any other game. Players can also manually lower their levels from their current max, making them weaker but able to reap better item rewards from battles in turn. This allows for a degree of flexibility in difficulty not seen in many other games.

The story is a topsy-turvy, twisty, roller-coaster of a ride that never once becomes predictable or bland. The colorful characters — both aesthetically and personally — and downright infectious soundtrack instill life and passion into the beating heart that is Shibuya. The World Ends With You is bizarre, but it’s that bizarre nature that makes it stand out from the crowd in the best way possible. (Matthew Ponthier)

152) Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Developer(s) Retro Studios / Nintendo
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Wii
Release: NA: August 27, 2007
Genre(s) Action-adventure, First-person shooter

The release of a new Metroid is usually an event, but after the resounding success of the first two entries in the Prime series, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption was anticipated with a little more hype than even Samus may have been used to. Touted as an experience to compare with mega-shooters like Halo, developer Retro Studios definitely went bigger for the end of their saga, with more action, scripted events, actual character interactions complete with voice acting, and a planet-spanning story involving phazon infection and the return of the legendary bounty hunter’s darker twin. Despite the emphasis on the epic, however, the game still feels like a Metroid should, with atmosphere and puzzle-solving taking center stage in a meticulously crafted universe. Wii games are rarely praised for their beauty, but the skill of the art design behind Prime 3‘s gorgeous planets, from the ancient mechanical sky city of Elysia to the bristling thorn jungle of Bryyo, nearly makes one forget they are playing on an under-powered system. Loaded with details that breath life into the varied environments, scanning every inch of these bizarre alien worlds tells the story better than any cutscene could.

The console’s unconventional controllers meant developers had to rethink how to handle certain genres, but thankfully for first-person shooter fans, Retro Studios provided a handy tutorial for classic running-and-gunning remote-and-nunchuck gameplay that proves to be not only a decent substitute for traditional methods, but in some ways superior. Simple and intuitive, pointing the Wiimote allows for the quicker precision aiming necessary to penetrate armor and find those glowing weak spots, while other motion-based actions help cast the illusion that players are actually inside Samus’ power suit. Tossing out the grapple beam and ripping away a Space Pirate’s laser shield feels awesome, soldering maintenance panels with the plasma beam satisfies a mechanical urge, and pushing back and forth to activate a pump switch..well, maybe satisfies another urge. Regardless, it’s easy to see why Nintendo adopted the scheme for the series’ compilation release. Blasting away as a badass intergalactic bounty hunter never felt better, and Metroid Prime 3 is a fantastic sendoff for an incredible trilogy. (Patrick Murphy)

153) The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Director(s) Daiki Iwamoto
Platform(s) Nintendo DS
Release: JP: June 23, 2007 / NA: October 1, 2007
Genre(s) Action-adventure

After the initial backlash that Toon Link wasn’t the strapping bad-ass that fans had been hoping to see in their new Legend of Zelda game, folks actually began to warm up to the little guy, which is why it wasn’t too terribly surprising to see him get a spin-off set in the same timeline as The Wind Waker, and following on the events of that game directly. The Phantom Hourglass keeps the sailing mechanics and a few of the items from the previous adventure, but changes things up dramatically in many respects.

First and foremost, the game can be played almost entirely using the stylus of the Nintendo DS. Though this is initially jarring, credit must be given for how organic this choice feels after the initial shock of the change wears off. Speaking of the stylus, players can also use it to mark their map and even make notes on it to help them with side quests and cartography. Lastly (and most impressively), during certain events — like boss encounters — both screens will be utilized simultaneously, creating the unique experience of fighting a boss across two visual plains, with no lag or faltering in the mechanics of the game.

Though Phantom Hourglass‘ reputation is somewhat marred by its insistence that you return to a central dungeon several times throughout the adventure for some repetitive exploration, it still holds up remarkably well otherwise, and is rightly remembered as one of the best titles on the Nintendo DS. (Mike Worby)

Super Mario Galaxy

154) Super Mario Galaxy
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Wii
Release: JP: 1 November 2007 / NA: 12 November 2007
Genre(s) Platforming

Super Mario Galaxy is not only the best title on the Nintendo Wii, it is the single greatest example of what the entertainment medium of gaming has to offer. It is the definition of a masterpiece: unprecedented level design, an endless stream of imaginative and creative ideas, and (most importantly) a rock-solid gameplay system that stands head and shoulders above every other 3D title, period. Galaxy is the culmination of everything Nintendo EAD Tokyo has learned from years of game development. The awe-inspiring orchestral soundtrack and second-to-none visuals create an experience that simply does not age. All of this is backed by a staggering amount of content in the form of collectible stars that are represented as completely unique challenges. Nintendo has once again succeeded in highlighting the best of what games have to offer. There is no over-reliance on narrative, no over-complicated gimmick that tries too hard to be unique; it is the quintessential gameplay experience, perfected. (Zack Rezak)

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155) No More Heroes
Developer(s) Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher(s) Marvelous Entertainment / Ubisoft
Platform(s) Wii
Release:  JP: December 6, 2007 / NA: January 22, 2008
Genre(s) Action-adventure, Hack-and-slash

Through much of its life cycle, the Wii was erroneously labeled a “kiddie console.” While the designation is somewhat understandable with Nintendo’s family-friendly history, the Wii housed some exceptional mature titles. Admittedly there weren’t many, and while consequently many of the earliest M-rated games on Wii stood out like a blood splatter on a white sheet, none did so quite like Grasshopper Manufacture’s No More Heroes. Not only was the game one of the earliest M’s on the Wii (which certainly drew attention), but it’s the sort of hard-M, hyper-violent, ultra quirky type of title that only auteur game director Suda51 (Killer7Shadows of the DamnedLollipop Chainsaw) could come up with.

The game follows Travis Touchdown, a huge anime and wrestling nerd who finds himself a ranked assassin in the United Assassins Association after taking a hit job for some quick cash from the attractive Sylvia. Left to fight for his life, the top-ranked assassin position, and an after party with Sylvia, Travis has to rise to the occasion and ascend from typical otaku to badass to survive. By making Travis a gamer/anime nerd, he’s immediately one of the most relatable protagonists in all of gaming, and I’ve never felt like such a badass vicariously while playing a game. Part of that shared experience comes from the brilliant blend of typical button controls and motion controls. Swinging the Wiimote when prompted results in satisfying, gruesome death blows, and grabbing enemies and then making a tossing motion with Wiimote and Nunchuk executes a stunning wrestling move. No More Heroes was designed very specifically for the Wii, and it works in the best possible way.

While an unnecessary, sparse open world and repetitious side missions slow some of the game’s pace down, the standard level designs and boss battles are designed stupendously, all brought to life with the gorgeous, cell-shaded art direction. Many of the game’s weaker moments — such as side missions — help establish the game as a celebration of cinema and gaming, and create the hysterically stark contrast between Travis as an assassin and Travis as an asinine average Joe. The only thing NMH has more of than blood is humor — not only in dialogue and suggestive content, but also in small touches, like saving the game by using the toilet. Vibrant, hilarious, with plenty to unlock and achieve, the ridiculously fun, blood-soaked missions make No More Heroes one innuendo-fueled fight you won’t soon forget. (Tim Maison)

SMASH BROS 5

156) Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Developer(s) Game Arts / Sora Ltd.
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Wii
Release: JP: January 31, 2008 / NA: March 9, 2008
Genre(s) Fighting

The third installment in the Super Smash Bros. series of crossover fighting games is the first game in the series to expand past Nintendo characters by allowing players to control third-party icons such as Snake, the gritty soldier from Konami’s hugely popular Metal Gear series, and Sega’s longtime unofficial mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. Among the other new characters playable in the game are Meta Knight (the sword-wielding nemesis of Kirby), Pit (the angelic archer from Kid Icarus), Zero Suit Samus, and Wario, who surprised everyone with his incredibly deadly attacks. But Brawl‘s biggest addition was its Wi-Fi Connection support, which surprisingly functioned really well at the time. Add on the introduction of the level editor, the gorgeous full-motion cut-scenes, and the utterly astounding soundtrack (which will probably go down in history as one of the greatest), and you have yourself a game that is completely engrossing and wholly entertaining from beginning to end. Super Smash Bros. Brawl is one of the great multiplayer titles of the generation, and a game that will forever stand the test of time. (Ricky D)

157) Mario Kart Wii

Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Wii
Release: JP: April 10, 2008 / NA: April 27, 2008
Genre(s) Kart racing

While not ranked in the pantheon of amazing Mario Kart games, there’s something to be said for how fluid and streamlined Mario Kart Wii is. The first game to incorporate motion controls into gameplay, this entry utilizes the Wii’s primary gimmick to great effect. Controlling the karts feels natural and doesn’t inhibit the game as many initially suspected. Visually, Mario Kart Wii is beautiful and boasts updated graphics compared to those found on the GameCube installment. While the cast of playable characters grew to 24 and included familiar faces such as Rosalina and Dry Bowser, Mario Kart Wii also brings in 16 new tracks to race across, as well as updated versions of some of the older tracks. An updated progression system makes it more challenging to unlock all 36 karts and motorcycles. Furthermore, any Mii created on the system can be used as a character. I was especially fond of watching Jesus or The Joker tear up Rainbow Road. The addition of online play was a welcome feature, as players could now test their racing skills on the world stage.

From a commercial standpoint, Mario Kart Wii did quite well. Fans both old and new flocked to the game for simple and pure fun. The Mario Kart name already carried weight in the gaming community, but this Wii version modernized the classic series for the then current gen system. Sales for Mario Kart Wii were staggering in the months after its release, with over 1 million copies moved in Japan alone by early May of 2008. More than anything, Mario Kart Wii showcased the true strength of Nintendo’s 1st party games, and along with Twilight Princess, helped skyrocket the Wii into being one of the best-selling consoles of all time. (Carston Carrella)

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158) Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
Developer(s) AlphaDream
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo DS
Release: JP: February 11, 2009 / NA: September 14, 2009
Genre(s) Role-playing

Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is an engaging, hilarious experience, whose charm never wears thin. Released in 2009 at the height of the DS and Wii’s mutual success, Bowser’s Inside Story inverts the traditional Mario RPG archetypes by having Bowser serve as one of the game’s main protagonists. Such an inversion, coupled with the game’s excellent battle system, laugh-out-loud dialogue, and superb, sprite-based visuals makes Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story an amazing experience that shouldn’t be missed. (Izsak Barnette)

159) New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Wii
Release: NA: November 15, 2009
Genre(s) Platforming

In a shocking turn of events, a princess is kidnapped by a bunch of adolescent reptiles, spurring her blue-collar boo to run from left to right a bunch of times in order to knock the reptiles’ father/uncle into lava. As the tenth installment in the long-running Super Mario Bros. series, New Super Mario Bros. Wii isn’t very new at all. Indeed, it’s easy to look back at it now as “just another Mario game,” and part of the subpar “New” subseries at that. But at the time, New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the plumber’s grand return to home consoles — the first of its kind in nearly twenty years.

Though it might lack the genius of its legendary predecessors, the game was, by and large, a success. It was generally well-received by critics and went on to sell over 30 million units to become the fourth highest-selling Wii game. Even if longtime fans might have felt the game catered too heavily toward the Wii’s casual audience in its difficulty and blasé art style, it was more classic Mario platforming, with the intuitive controls and mechanics that make its gameplay so accessible, deep, and universally beloved.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii also introduced four-player simultaneous cooperative play and a Super Guide video showing how to beat a level, both of which have become series staples and make the game approachable for a wider audience. It also premiered the penguin and propeller power-ups, and brought back the fan-favorite Koopalings. Though it might not stand out from its New Super Mario Bros. series brethren, it remains a strong outing, and among the best 2D platformers on Nintendo’s highest-selling home console. (Kyle Rentschler)

160) Monster Hunter Tri
Developer(s) Capcom Production Studio 1
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) Wii
Release: JP: August 1, 2009 / NA: April 20, 2010
Genre(s) Action role-playing

What could be more fun than taking down a giant monster with a team of three of your friends (or complete strangers)? Monster Hunter Tri was the first time Capcom brought the hunt to a Nintendo platform, and it was just as epic as players were expecting. Even though the Wii wasn’t known for its online gaming functionality, Tri manages to include a fully-featured online suite. Lobbies, voice chat (albeit with the dreadful Wii Speak), and keyboard support are all included, making it easy to communicate with other players.

Tons of new monsters are added to the mix, including underwater fights that control surprisingly well. A fully featured single player mode is also included, but it pales in comparison to getting a full team together. Tri was successful enough to convince Capcom to make future installments for Nintendo platforms, mainly the 3DS. It’s one of the most important entries in the franchise, as the online suite felt up to par with what was being offered on rival consoles. Even though it only includes around 30 monsters, it feels huge because of the amount of time it takes to put one of them down. Online events and special guests made it easy to sink hundreds upon hundreds of hours into this multiplayer masterpiece. (Zack Rezak)

161) Sin & Punishment: Star Successor
Developer(s) Treasure Co., Ltd.
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Director(s) Atsutomo Nakagawa
Platform(s) Wii, Wii U
Release: JP: October 29, 2009 / NA: June 27, 2010
Genre(s) Rail shooter

Treasure is one of those rare development groups that seems like they can do no wrong. This offshoot company of ex-Konami reps has been programming popular and niche hits since Gunstar Heroes in 1993. The original Sin and Punishment was a Japan-exclusive Nintendo 64 title that became a cult classic in the world of imports. In 2007, Nintendo released the game in North America and Europe for the first time through the Wii’s Virtual Console market. It received critical praise from plenty of review sites, and its reception led to the creation of Sin & Punishment: Star Successor.

Star Successor‘s story takes place several years after the original game. It follows Isa, the son of the first game’s protagonist, and Kachi as they try to evade an overprotective Earth government. Kachi is a godlike figure, originally sent by her masters to wipe out humanity. She has a change of heart upon spending more time with them. Isa was originally pursuing her for the government he was employed by, but decides to help her escape when he finally confronts her. The story is short and confusing at times, but the game pulls from a lot of different sci-fi inspirations such as Blade Runner and Neon Genesis Evangelion (which was a huge influence on the first game). While the story might feel second-rate, Treasure is a company known for their unique and interesting styles of gameplay, and Star Successor lives up to this standard.

Star Successor is an on-rails shooter with a surprising amount of depth to it. While the game capitalizes on the Wii’s motion controls, it also has other layouts with the classic controller and even the GameCube controller. Each scheme feels great, and that’s a testament to how good the design is. The two playable characters both have different play styles; Isa has stronger bullets but lacks the ability to lock onto targets, while Kachi has weaker bullets but can lock on to target as long as she’s aiming in their general area. The game also features a two-player scenario where someone with a second controller can provide backup fire to the other person on screen. Combat is hectic, and enemies and their bullets fill the screen with effects similar to bullet hell-style shmups. Isa and Kachi come with ranged and melee attacks, the latter of which serves more as a defensive tool than offensive. The two protagonists can cut through terrain, enemies, bullets, and even reflect larger projectiles back at enemies by using the energy swords equipped to their guns.
Sin & Punishment: Star Successor is one of the most enjoyable arcade experiences exclusive to the Wii thanks to its unique and varied gameplay. (Taylor Smith)

162) No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
Developer(s) Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher(s) Ubisoft
Platform(s) Wii
Release: NA: January 26, 2010
Genre(s) Action-adventure, Hack-and-slash

The sequel to No More HeroesNo More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, is a tale of revenge full of bitter executions, as protagonist Travis Touchdown returns once more to the fictional Santa Destroy, California to target and eliminate the wretched ranks of the UAA (United Assassins Association). The game targets the flaws of the first title and does them in, all in a highly satisfying way. When Travis first climbed the ranks of the UAA, it was mostly for sex, but in Desperate Struggle the fight is personal, and in this darker, more vicious sequel, Travis doesn’t intend to play nice. Despite being slightly darker tonally, NMH2 loses none of its charm or humor; in fact, many of Travis’s outraged taunts are laugh-out-loud funny. The fun, frantic combat has also returned with some pleasant additions. Players will still need to keep Travis’s beam katana charged by shaking the Wiimote, making fights a fun balancing act between taking swings and keeping Travis’s only defense active. Now, however, players can switch between four progressively unlocked styles of beam katana, including a duel-wielding version like on the cover of the game. The excellently designed missions and boss encounters have also returned, with some unexpected, fun variation that I won’t spoil here.

Thankfully absent is the harmless but tedious open world from the original game. More importantly, the entry fees to fights are also missing, so side missions and mini games are no longer mandatory to progress the narrative. Instead, the mini-games are optional, used to power Travis up or to collect cash that can then be spent in customizing his appearance in cool or humorous ways, along with other fun features. All of the mini-games take the shape of fun, 8-bit arcade-style games that are quicker and more enjoyable than their predecessor’s equivalents, and feel genuinely rewarding while providing a fun diversion from the regular missions. As a sequel, NMH2’s narrative feels a little less original, but it’s a streamlined experience that delivers everything players loved from the original in spades. Colorful, artistic, quirky, funny, bombastic, and overall outrageously enjoyable, No More Heroes 2 is a prime example of what all video game sequels should strive to be, and offers more evidence that Travis Touchdown is one of the best protagonists in recent memory. Do yourself a favor and play No More Heroes as well, if only so you can play the better-designed No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle immediately after. (Tim Maison)

163) Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Developer(s) Good-Feel / HAL Laboratory
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Wii
Release: JP: October 14, 2010 / NA: October 17, 2010
Genre(s) Platforming

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is the Wii’s testament to the potency of joy, combining excellent-feeling mechanics in combination with just the overall cuteness that a game can have. Although the game is in a similar vein to a side-scrolling Super Mario Bros game, Kirby’s Epic Yarn does push the boundaries of cuteness.

Graphically, the fresh look of Epic Yarn helps Kirby become even more loveable with its creative use of cloth and textiles that pulls and stretches the world in all sorts of directions, similar to what Paper Mario did with paper. Interactive, interesting, and innovative are three “I’s” that could describe the graphical look of Epic Yarn. The core game sticks to a 2D side-scrolling base, but that doesn’t stop it from being interesting. More than just a visual masterpiece, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a solid and cute platform game that is perfect when experienced in co-op with a casual player. With some great hardcore similar games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii, this alternative choice is all but superfluous. (Katrina Lind)

NintendoGames164) Donkey Kong Country Returns
Developer(s) Retro Studios
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Wii, Nintendo 3DS
Release: NA: November 21, 2010
Genre(s) Platforming

What does it take to make a perfect platformer? Is it a careful balance of jumping physics? Brilliant level design? Or is it a difficulty curve that takes your skills to the absolute limit? Whatever it is, Donkey Kong Country Returns has it in spades. As the successor to the much-beloved SNES series, Retro Studios had some ape-sized shoes to fill when they took on the monumental task of bringing back Donkey Kong Country after a nearly 15-year hiatus. Luckily for fans, much like their high-pressured revitalization of the Metroid series with Metroid Prime, Retro nailed everything that made Donkey Kong Country great in the first place, and even improved upon it.

In fact, Donkey Kong Country Returns may be the quintessential DKC game, and that’s saying something. If you’re a fan of classic platformers and have yet to take on this mammoth of a challenge, you owe it to yourself to set aside some time. (Mike Worby)

PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE | PART SIX | PART SEVEN

Humans by birth. Gamers by choice. Goomba Stomp is a Canadian web publication that has been independently owned and operated since its inception in 2016.

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From ‘dnd’ to ‘Death Stranding’: Good Old Fashioned Boss Fights

If Death Stranding proves anything, and it does, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.

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Death Stranding Higgs Boss Fights

There’s nothing quite like a good boss fight. With the creation of dnd in 1975– a Dungeons & Dragons inspired RPG for the PLATO system– video games would be introduced to bosses. It’s hard to imagine the medium without bosses, those perpetual protectors of progress. For dnd, an incredibly primitive RPG, a boss allowed the game to feature these miniature climaxes — memorable events independent of the core gameplay loop. Bosses demand players pay attention or die, and beating one is a triumph in and of itself. Looking back, dnd’s concept of what a boss is amounts to little more than the average random battle, but video games could now build towards emotional highs like any other medium. 

A good boss can make or break a game, but they’re almost always a given. dnd essentially set an inherent basic of game design: video games have bosses. As the seventh generation of gaming ushered in more narrative driven and “cinematic” titles, however, boss design fundamentally changed. Where bosses had evolved from dnd to often serve as explicit rewards or a means to thoughtfully challenge a player’s grasp of the core mechanics, developers started to primarily embrace the “spectacle” of fighting a boss. 

Spectacle and boss fights naturally go hand in hand, though. After all, a boss is spectacle in nature. dnd’s spectacle is comparatively primitive, but it’s there and bosses do feel like events. Boss fights have always demanded our attention as an audience, isolating the world of a game into a singular objective. Some of the best bosses in gaming are almost pure spectacle: Baby Bowser in Yoshi’s Island, Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, and Metal Gear REX in Metal Gear Solid. None of these bosses are particularly hard, but they make up for their lack of challenge with scale, scope, and gravitas. Spectacle. 

At the same time, they engage with the mechanics of the game even if they don’t outright challenge them. Of course, it would be disingenuous to go on without mentioning that all of these bosses appear near the end of their respective games. They’re easier and focus on spectacle as a means of rewarding the audience for coming so far. Anyone who’s played A Link to the Past in full will likely remember Moldorm as vividly as Ganon, but it’s the latter who fans will remember. Ganon is a spectacular duel to the death inside of a pyramid where the environment changes over the course of the fight. The former is just a good old fashioned boss fight. Who wants that?

As it turns out, a good chunk of AAA developers. BioWare director Casey Hudson infamously spoke out about boss fights after the release of Mass Effect 3, criticizing them for being “too video gamey.” While, contextually, Hudson’s comment refers to narratively convenient bosses specifically, it’s a sentiment that clearly rang true with developers throughout the late oughts & teens. This isn’t to say games with amazing bosses didn’t release over the course of the decade -– very far from it -– but boss design has changed, to the point where the Iggy Koopas and Revolver Ocelots of the world seem almost out of place. 

That’s just a consequence of consuming only AAA content, though. The indie scene has been thriving, and Japanese game development is the best it’s been in quite a while. In a generation where gaming is more mature and grounded than it’s ever been, the medium needed to end the decade with a reminder of video games in their purest form. Death Stranding is anything but, but its core philosophies play to the strengths of the medium with an evident passion. Death Stranding demands that audiences slow down and play by the game’s rules. 

In a generation where holding a player’s hand is the norm, this is a welcome breath of fresh air. It’s not only appropriately old-school, it’s a step back in the right direction. Like any facet of game design, bosses need to be thoughtfully considered. Being “too video gamey” can indeed be a bad thing depending on a titles tone, but swinging in the wrong direction and playing it too safe is never a good idea. Especially since Death Stranding proves mature, grounded AAA titles can absolutely still have the same over the top, pattern-based boss fights of yore — and comfortably, at that. 

“No BTs. No Voidouts. No bullshit. Just a good-old fashioned boss fight.”
– Higgs, Death Stranding (2019)

What’s interesting to note about Death Stranding’s boss fights is that they all play up the spectacle. Now, given the context that’s been established, that might seem like a step in the wrong direction, but any medium has to evolve with time. AAA developers haven’t historically used spectacle well, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Not every boss should be Ganon, but they should always be memorable. The problem with modern spectacle is that it doesn’t go beyond the surface level. It often carries little to no weight or context. Players are expected to care for the spectacle of the spectacle, but that’s simply not where the medium shines. Games are inherently about interconnectivity, and nothing demands more interconnection than a boss fight. 

From the moment players formally meet Higgs and he floods Port Knot City, it’s clear that Death Stranding’s boss fights are more Snake Eater than they are Peace Walker. They’re all incredibly meaty with tons of health, typical of a modern Hideo Kojima boss, but they’re not bullet sponges, and Sam’s limited inventory means that players will constantly be cycling through different weapons over the course of a fight. Couple this with bosses having identifiable patterns and Death Stranding’s boss loops end up being real highlights. 

As expected of a first boss, the Squid BT is on the simple side. At this point in the game, Sam really only has hematic grenades to fight back with. Anyone who hasn’t taken the time to learn how to use the grenades are now forced to do so as it becomes the only means of making progress. Since Higgs also ambushes Sam, players won’t be prepared for a fight on their first playthrough, forced to scavenge the flooded environment for gear. Most bosses strip Sam of his gear, but this approach only results in tense, well crafted battles that offer plenty of variety. Should Sam already have grenades on him, players can rush in to fight the Squid. Should they not, however, they’re going to have to search while staying alive. 

Starting with the next boss, the first fight against Cliff, Death Stranding begins allowing players to choose exactly how they approach a fight. Much like in Metal Gear, there’s no right or wrong way to tackle a boss. Where bosses in MGS2 onwards could be tackled lethally or non-lethally, Death Stranding’s bosses are more about action versus stealth. Both approaches are totally viable, and they lead into their own isolated boss loops. As Cliff Unger hunts Sam through World War I era trenches, players can stealth their way around him or just dive in guns blazing. 

It’s an incredibly tense battle, but it doesn’t let the spectacle of the situation outdo the actual fight. Cliff isn’t a set piece even if he looks it. He’s a genuine boss and players have to play well to beat him. Stealthing around to hit him from behind is safer, but it means players will be fighting Cliff for much longer, requiring more mental stamina. On the flip side, cutting to the chase and unloading the moment he rears his head will end the fight sooner, but only for players who know how to get in & out of combat fast. Otherwise, Cliff’s personal army will slaughter Sam. 

Cliff is fought twice more over the course of Death Stranding, and each encounter builds off the last. The World War I trenches provided plenty of cover for players regardless of which approach they chose, so naturally the second fight takes place in a World War II city. There’s still plenty of hiding spots, but Sam is now out in the open. Just as easily as Sam can see Cliff, so can he be seen. Getting to Cliff is harder in general. Stealthing towards him means taking advantage of any and all blind spots, no matter how brief. Starting a gunfight either requires some pre-established course of action or quick reflexes. 

Death Stranding

By the third and final fight, Sam is taking on Cliff in an open Vietnamese jungle. Stealthing through and fighting back are both harder, but players will have built up the proper skills over their past two fights to adequately stand a chance. The fights against Cliff are the most video gamey Death Stranding ever gets, with each one sharing the same definable patterns, but they’re ultimately a net positive for the game. Having to learn a pattern, finding a way to fight back, and reveling in the scope of a great boss fight makes Death Stranding better on a whole. 

Honestly, the final fight against Cliff isn’t going to be a challenge for most players, but it’ll still stand out as a highlight. Each boss fight is a playground in and of itself. If Sam’s not being transported to a secluded battlefield, areas will be flooded with tar so that they can be molded into proper boss arenas. Even Dark Souls, a modern series that rightfully prides itself on its bosses, often won’t give the same level of care toward boss arenas. Good bosses need good level design just as much as they need good patterns. 

Perhaps more important than anything else, Death Stranding’s boss fights are long. Even if players know what they’re doing, they still have to endure an endurance match of sorts. Boss fights aren’t just about overcoming a challenge, they’re about surviving and making progress. Cliff’s not particularly difficult, but one mistake can result in Sam getting torn into. The majority of BT boss fights will try to overwhelm the player in the second half, the final one even featuring a nasty one-hit-kill that can easily sneak up on players wading through tar. Bosses should feel like events, from how players can engage mechanically, to how they’re presented narratively. 

No discussion of Death Stranding’s good old fashioned boss fights would be complete without mentioning the boss fight: Higgs. After serving as the game’s main villain for dozens upon dozens of hours, Sam finally gets his chance to fight back in a three phase boss fight that could have (very) prematurely ended the game on a high. Unlike the fights against Cliff, Sam really does have nothinghere, no matter what. He’s stripped of his gear, his weapons, and even BB. “Stick versus rope. Gun versus strand.” It’s a great way not only to wrap up Higgs’ arc, but it also challenges a player’s mastery of the most basic mechanics. 

Death Stranding

Phase 1 of the fight requires players understand not only Sam’s hand to hand combat capabilities, but his ability to throw packages. Throw a package at Higgs, beat him up, rinse, repeat. All the while he’s hunting Sam in one of the most constricted boss arenas in the game. Popping up too early means taking a few shots courtesy of Higgs. Popping up too late means needing to find him all over again. 

Phase 2 puts Sam on the offensive, and expects players to fight back with his strand. Higgs needs to be countered, hog-tied, and then kicked into oblivion. On-screen button prompts make the ordeal easier than it would otherwise be, but it’s thrilling to fight a boss who requires players to pull off reflex-based inputs that go beyond the typical QTE flare. Players need to set themselves up accordingly to counter Higgs, actively taking him head on. 

By the time fighting game health bars pop up for the third phase, it’s fairly obvious Higgs’ boss fight is a love letter to the very concept of the boss fight. It’s over the top, almost nonsensical, but it has the right narrative and emotional context to stand out as one of the best moments in an already spectacular game. The fight against Higgs is a miniature climax in a massive story that spans half a hundred hours, and is about to keep on keeping on for half a dozen more. 

Death Stranding

When it really comes down to it, there’s no right or wrong way to conceive a boss fight. Those spectacle bosses have their place, and this generation has seen a lot of amazing ones. What’s important is that developers build and contextualize spectacle accordingly. Boss fights aren’t just an inherent part of gaming, they’re a tool that can make a title better. Opportunities to shine light on the core mechanics, or an interesting aspect of game design. Death Stranding’s penultimate mission essentially pits Sam against a boss gauntlet across the entire UCA, a last chance for players to really indulge in everything at their disposal before the grand finale. 

Death Stranding would still be good without its boss fights, but it certainly wouldn’t be great. Each one elevates the game, not only by presenting a visually memorable and mechanically engaging challenge, but by existing as natural consequences of the story. Each boss is contextualized properly with enough weight where each victory has a considerable amount of impact. Boss fights have come a long way since dnd, but they’re recognizable for what they are: a reminder that games are games, and the medium should be embracing those video gamey elements. It’s through this “video gameyness” that the most memorable titles are made. If Death Stranding proves anything, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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