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The Best Games of the 1990s

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Gaming has changed a lot in the last 30 years. From pixels to polygons, from barely workable 3D to incredibly complex gaming worlds, and from 16-bit soundtracks to fully orchestrated scores. One thing has been consistent for the last three decades though, and that has been the games. For every change in technology, growth in ambition, and exciting new idea, there have been men and women who took games to the next level and created some of the greatest games we’ve ever played in the process.

With this spirit in mind, we’ve decided to go back over the last 30 years with the gift of hindsight. Our editors selected 6 games from each year that we thought best encapsulated it. Our criteria included new ground broken, lasting impact, fun factor, general quality, influence, popularity and a whole host of other criteria. It was hard going, but we managed to narrow it down to a mere 6 from every single year. 1 winner and 5 runners-up. We then asked our writers to choose the best game of each of the last 3 decades years. Now, with the votes tallied and the list prepared, we offer it to you. Some of our picks may be divisive, and others may be safe as houses, but the democratic process won out, and these are our picks for Goomba Stomp’s favorite games of the last quarter-century. Here are the best games of the 1990s.

1990) Super Mario Bros. 3

The Best Games of the 1990s

Super Mario Bros 3 is often considered to be the best video game of the 8-bit generation and with reason. It introduced so many new ideas and for its time, the game was beyond anything you could ever dream of with eight worlds and seventy-plus ingenious levels of side-scrolling awesomeness. It introduced new power-ups and various suits Mario can use inside the levels, including the super leaf which turns Mario into Raccoon Mario, letting him fly, glide, and tail whip – and the fan-favorite, the Tanooki suit, which gives Mario the same abilities as the super leaf, but also lets him briefly turn into a statue protecting him from danger. Meanwhile, the frog suit allows you to swim very quickly underwater and jump higher while on land, and the hammer suit turns Mario into Hammer Mario, letting him throw powerful hammers and block fireballs by crouching.

In Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario could now slide down hills, knocking down enemies who get in his way, and the powerups from the original game also make an appearance. Also new to the series were mini-games, an overhead map screen to track progress and collectible warp whistles that teleport you to later worlds in the game. In addition, is the music box which puts enemies on the map to sleep and the anchor used to stop the Koopaling’s airship from flying around the map so that you don’t have to chase it. Jugern’s Cloud allows you to skip a level and Kuribo’s Shoe, easily one of the most beloved power-ups in Mario history, can be found in only one level!

The familiar Mario sound effects are present and accounted for, along with a batch of new musical compositions concocted by Koji Kondo and dozens of new enemies like Boom Booms, Boos and Chain Chomps make their very first appearance in the Nintendo universe. In my opinion, it is a near-perfect video game crammed with so much to see and so much to do. It is hands down the best in the Super Mario series— a masterpiece, full of innovation, surprises and a game that will forever stand the test of time. (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Mega Man 3, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos, The Secret of Monkey Island, Startropics

1991) Super Mario World

The Best Games of the 1990s

There are about eight Mario adventures that could easily be listed within the lexicon of the greatest games ever made, and Super Mario World, released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System sits on that list. Super Mario World helped define the 16-bit era, transforming the classic Mario formula into something bigger, faster, brighter, and some would say, better. It proved that Nintendo could deviate away from a traditional formula and still have a massive hit on their hands. And for this reason alone, Super Mario World is one of the most important games Nintendo has ever released. It gave them the confidence to continuously experiment, even if it was at the expense of their now iconic mascot. It also helped the Super NES sell millions of units while teens were desperately trying to decide between purchasing either the Super NES or the Sega Genesis.

What makes the Super Mario series so great is Nintendo’s insistence in finding new ways to expand upon its basic concepts in unexpected ways. Super Mario World managed to push the boundaries and exceeded the expectations of gamers back in 1992. Following up on the brilliance of Super Mario Bros. 3 was no easy feat but Nintendo pulled it off with great success. I think it’s safe to say that Super Mario World is the apex of 16-bit platforming and set the bar impossibly high for any future 16-bit releases. (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Another World, Final Fantasy IV, F-Zero, Street Fighter II, Super Castlevania IV

1992) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

The Best Games of the 1990s

Back in 1993, A Link to the Past did many things other games had never done before it, and in many ways, A Link to the Past was the Zelda game that would lay down the blueprint for other entries to follow. A Link to the Past puts its contemporaries to shame, which is quite a claim when you consider the library the Super Nintendo boasts. There are easily more dungeons to explore in this game than any other games in the series, and each of those labyrinths is vibrantly rendered. Kazuaki Morita, who would go on to become a permanent fixture in the Zelda franchise, did an incredible job in creating a new multi-level geometry for Link to roam around. Every dungeon in the game is overflowing with intricately-layered platforms, a wide variety of enemies, and a healthy dose of complex puzzles. One could say that A Link to the Past is the ultimate dungeon-crawling game.

It was also a graphical showcase at the time, full of diverse environments and detailed sprites. The sound design, too, is a work of genius. Koji Kondo’s compositions here are legendary, and A Link to the Past helped to establish the musical score of the Zelda series. Meanwhile, the game introduced elements to the series that are still commonplace today, such as the concept of an alternate or parallel world, the Master Sword, and several new weapons and items for Link to use. Released to critical and commercial success, A Link to the Past was a landmark title for Nintendo and established a formula for adventure games that balanced exploration, storytelling, item acquisition, and puzzle-solving. It’s a formula still followed today, and not just in the series, but by many other game developers worldwide. In the Zelda canon — which, in my opinion, consists of six masterpieces — this 16-bit adventure is still by far the best in the series. (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Alone in the Dark, Contra III: The Alien Wars, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Super Mario Kart, Wolfenstein 3D

1993) Doom

The Best Games of the 1990sDoom is not the original first-person shooter, but it’s undeniably the most significant. The continued prevalence of FPS titles in 2019, 26 years after its release, exist as an ongoing tribute to the phenomenal impact of id software’s blockbuster shooter. It caused tidal waves in the PC gaming industry, set an unparalleled standard for 3D gaming, and made rock stars out of its small team of developers and programmers.

Time has been astonishingly kind to Doom, and this can be attributed to the unfiltered vision and unrelenting work ethic of id. Wanting nothing but the fastest, bloodiest, most visceral and badass video game possible, the team created an experience that still encapsulates every bit of their mantra to this day. It remains a blistering, brutal blast of pure adrenaline that’s as infinitely playable on its recent Switch port as it is in a web browser.

Looking at pretty much any screenshot of Doom will bring memories flooding back, as so much of the game’s visuals are truly iconic. The coloured key cards, the grotesque monsters, the Doom Guy avatar at the bottom of the screen, the BFG – everything on display is memorable, and without any semblance of a story to carry it all.

Doom’s method of gameplay over story quintessentially embodies the early philosophy of id software, where, “Story in a game is like story in a porn movie; it’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.” That may be less of the case today, but back in 1993 it was unquestionably true. Doom’s influence has, and will continue to, echo through the ages thanks to its revolutionary gameplay and unabashed focus on big f’n guns and lots of f’n fun. (Alex Aldridge)

Runners-Up: Mortal Kombat II, Mega Man X, Myst, Secret of Mana, Star Fox

1994) Super Metroid

The Best Games of the 1990s

The bodies of dead scientists lie strewn across the floor. Leering strings echo in the background, mingling with the shrill screeches of the last Metroid. Super Metroid thrives on creating such an unsettling atmosphere. A masterwork of worldbuilding, it presents an eerily explorable planet unlike anything before it. In doing so, it also became one of the few games that can truly be said to have begun its own genre.

Super Metroid’s brilliance boils down to its setting – the desolate Planet Zebes. It is a silent planet, one that tells its own stories through its environment alone. From the ruins of the fallen Chozo society to the distorted remains of failed Space Pirate experiments, Zebes is filled with muted monuments of its tragic history. With its ominous visuals and its ambient, percussive soundtrack, it creates an alien environment that encourages players to uncover more of its past.

Progress through Zebes isn’t siphoned off into segmented levels as in other action games of the time. Instead, Super Metroid presents a masterfully interconnected world that can be explored in any direction – provided that one has the items necessary to overcome the game’s many obstacles. As the player becomes more powerful with every new item or ability, the world opens up further, exposing more of its mysteries and hidden depths. It’s this marriage of exploration and worldbuilding that makes the gameplay loop so intoxicating, even a quarter of a century after its release.

For 25 years, countless games have proudly dubbed themselves “Metroidvanias” as they strive to emulate Super Metroid’s signature seamless design. Yet even with so many successors, Super Metroid remains the pinnacle of the genre it fostered. Few games have created a world as engrossing and worthy of exploring as Zebes. (Campbell Gill)

Runners-Up: Donkey Kong Country, Earthworm Jim, Earthbound, Final Fantasy VI, Sim City 2000

1995) Chrono Trigger

The Best Games of the 1990s

Few RPGs inspire as warm memories as Chrono Trigger does. It makes sense too, Chrono Trigger arrived at a time when the world needed a game just like it. Final Fantasy VI is a great game, but it lacks the polish and vision of a game like this. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy VII was a ground-breaking game-changer, but its experimental development means that it hasn’t aged as well as we might like.

Chrono Trigger is the perfect sweet spot between the two. Crafted by the dream team of Yoshinori Kitase, Takashi Tokita, and Akihiko Matsui, Chrono Trigger benefited from having the best and brightest in the business at the helm, and a bevy of talented outliers contributing in other facets. Akira Toriyama of Dragonball Z fame designed the characters, while one of a kind composers Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda concocted the score.

A timeless tale of a group of misfits who take up the call of all of humanity without even being asked, Chrono Trigger is an unforgettable experience, a game that is as timeless as its characters journey. (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: Civilization II, Command and Conquer, Donkey Kong Country 2, Warcraft II, Yoshi’s Island

1996) Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64

In many ways, Super Mario 64 is the definitive video game. As a technical showcase, it simultaneously ushered the best-selling video game series and the medium as a whole into the third dimension, redefining the very notion of what games could be. As a design marvel, it remains one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time and continues to influence countless successors, from games in its own series such as Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Odyssey, to non-Nintendo games such as Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, and A Hat in Time.

Nearly twenty-five years later, Super Mario 64 remains a joy to play and for many series vets it still features the most responsive and flexible controls, most memorable worlds, most quintessential tunes, and most satisfying missions. From first landing on the castle lawn to discovering Yoshi on its roof, Super Mario 64 is full of unforgettable moments that will remain forever lodged into the collective subconscious of 90s kids and gaming culture. (Kyle Rentschler)

Runners-Up: Crash Bandicoot, Mario Kart 64, Pokemon Red & Blue, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider

1997) Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

The Best Games of the 1990s

Sometimes the best strategy for a franchise is simply to take up someone else’s ball and run with it. Such was the case with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. After Super Metroid redefined its own genre, the previously level-based Castlevania decided to take that concept and evolve it further. Birthed from this experiment was the most memorable and successful game in the franchise, an outlier that saw us playing as one of Dracula’s own instead of one of the Belmonts.

Set free in Dracula’s castle as his very own son, players flew, floated, and ran toward their destiny, in hopes of committing a melancholic patricide that would only be diminished by the hilariously bad voice acting that accompanied it. Today, even those glaring flaws are looked upon with loving nostalgia. Such is the quality of a game like Symphony of the Night, a game so enduring that it could inspire a successor over 20 years later.

While everyone else was concentrating on the next realm of game development, Koji Igarashi focused on making the best version of Castlevania he could, without abandoning the look and style the series had come to be known for. The results speak for themselves. (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: Final Fantasy VII, Goldeneye, Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey, Parappa the Rapper, Tekken 3

1998) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The Best Games of the 1990s

Few games hold their value with as much longevity as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. To this day, it remains the basis for virtually every major 3D action-adventure game. Even within its own franchise, Ocarina of Time tends to tower above other entries. Not because it has yet to be topped, but because it set such an all-around high benchmark for quality. 

Where other games have surpassed Ocarina of Time’s individual mechanics, very few rivals how cohesive and balanced the complete game still is. A slower text crawl does lead to a much slower experience overall, but Ocarina of Time is a game that thrives on its smaller moments. Every beat, every cutscene, and every dungeon meld together into an unforgettably epic adventure.  (Renan Fontes)

Runners-Up: Grim Fandango, Half-Life, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil 2, StarCraft

1999) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Best Games of the 90s

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is as much a time capsule as it is a video game. It’s a remnant of an era when the millennium was young, life was rad, the future was irrelevant, and goofing off was life. It got the punk kids into skating, the skater kids into video games, and the gamers into both. It truly exemplifies a period in time where my life aligned with this video game on practically every level.

As far as skateboarding games go, even within its own franchise, it’s fairly rudimentary. It lacks a lot of important features that were added in later installments like manuals and reverts, but its simplicity helps mark it as a timeless classic – one that can be easier to pick back up than riding… well, not a bike, but it’s definitely easier than riding an actual skateboard. What it lacks in complexity, it more than makes up for in a tight, responsive control system that made virtual skateboarding feel refined and ready for intense, skill-based chaos.

THPS boasts some of the most iconic levels and music in the series’ history and the majority of it is imprinted in my brain at this point, even if it took me years to hear the bridge in Goldfinger’s ‘Superman’ thanks to the two-minute time limit on Warehouse. Long before activities could be gamified, Neversoft was putting collectibles and hidden secrets into a skate park. It created this bite-sized chunk of adrenaline that could be repeated over and over again, much like trying to nail the perfect skateboard trick. It adhered perfectly to the short attention spans of young punks and skaters, and it was endlessly addictive.

THPS is not just an important game in terms of establishing a genre, but it’s an important game for an entire generation of people who grew up on Bart Simpson and Bam Margera, Offspring and NOFX, Osiris and DC, Jackass and CKY, Sega and Nintendo. Skating has never been as big, and the series has all but died a death after the repugnant fifth entry a few years ago, but nothing can kill the memory of playing THPS back on PS1. Gaming and skating collectively will never be as gnarly again. (Alex Aldridge)

Runners-Up: Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy VIII, Planescape: Torment, Silent Hill, System Shock 2 

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Best Games of the 1990s | Best Games of the 2000s | Best Games of the 2010s
4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Dave

    August 8, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    Good to see games like Oddworld, Otherworld, and Myst on here even if they didn’t win. They aren’t the typical mainstream games you would see on this list!

    • Mike Worby

      August 8, 2019 at 9:21 pm

      Thanks Dave, we worked our asses off to try and select the most important games of each year, using a wide bracket of qualifiers.

  2. Danny Goulter

    September 22, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    That screenshot of Mario 64 is from a rom hack of the game called Super Mario 64: Star Road.

    I googled the image when I was sure that I couldn’t recognise that level geometry from the game.

    • Ricky Fernandes da Conceição

      September 23, 2019 at 1:02 pm

      Thanks, Danny. We will fix this now.

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Games

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

Awesome Mixtape Vol. 5

It’s that time once again in which I bring to you my awesome mixtape featuring the best tracks from the best video game soundtracks of the year. Last year, my mixtape featured tracks from Triple-A titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and indie darlings like Celeste. In 2017, my picks for best soundtracks included tracks from some of my favorite games including Cuphead, Breath of the Wild and Into the Woods, to name just a few. Well, 2019 has been another banner year for the industry and as always, the games were blessed with an astounding selection of musical scores— some would argue the soundtracks were even better than the actual games at times. As always, it wasn’t easy deciding which songs to include and what to leave out— and as always, I’ve also mixed in some audio clips from various cut scenes while trying to keep it spoiler-free. Feel free to share this link and let me know if you think I’ve missed any great soundtracks in the comments below.

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019 Playlist

Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding
: Low Roar – “I’ll Keep Coming”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Life is Strange 2: Seyr – “Colour To Colour”
Life is Strange 2: Jonathan Morali – “Into the Woods”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Sayonara Wild Heart”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Wild Hearts Never Die”
Death Stranding: CHVRCHES – “Death Stranding”
Afterparty clip
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “Title and Credits”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Hades Gonna Hate”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Schoolyard Strangler”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Main Theme
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Cyrus the Scholar
Kingdom Hearts 3 clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Main Theme”
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Blue Skies and a Battle”
Devil May Cry 5 clip
Devil May Cry 5: Kota Suzuki – “Urizen Boss Battle Music”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
FAR: Lone Sails: Joel Schoch – “Colored Engine”
Days Gone: Nathan Whitehead— “Soldier’s Eye”
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Metro Exodus: Alexey Omelchuk – “Main Theme”
Resident Evil 2 Remake clip
Resident Evil 2 Remake: Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, Shun Nishigaki – “Mr.X Theme Music (T-103)”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Begin Again”
Life is Strange 2: Lincoln Grounds, Pat Reyford – “Morning Good Morning”
Life is Strange 2: Sufjan Stevens – “Death With Dignity”
Luigi’s Mansion 3 clip
Luigi’s Mansion 3: Koji Kondo – “Main Theme”
Ape Out: Matt Boch – “Intro”
Deltarune: Toby Fox – “Field of Hopes and Dreams”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “Loose Cargo”
“Star Wars: Imperial March” Hip Hop Remix
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra
Death Stranding: Silent Poets – “Asylum for The Feeling”
Catherine: Full Body: Shoji Meguro – “Tomorrow”
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: Koji Kondo – “Marin’s Ballad of the Windfish”
Metro Exodus – Alexey Omelchuk: “Teardrops”
Sekiro: Yuka Kitamura – “Ashina Reservoir”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “The Doom”
Medley: Eye of Death / Wild Hearts Never Die / Dragon Heart / Clair De Lune

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‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.

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max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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