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The History of Super Mario: The SNES Days

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History of Super Mari Bros.

Brick by Brick: The House that Mario Built

There are about eight Mario adventures that could easily be listed within the lexicon of the greatest games ever made, and Super Mario World and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System sit 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. Meanwhile, the follow-up, Yoshi’s Island, is a wonderful vision of pastel colors, majestic landscapes, and beautiful sprites that represent a mishmash of creativity, and imagination that only Nintendo could bring to life.

As the story goes, Shigeru Miyamoto wanted Mario to be able to ride a dinosaur and actually conceived the idea during the 8-bit days, but the limitations of the Nintendo Entertainment System made it impossible to include the additional character on the first four games in the series. Yoshi lived only in Miyamoto’s imagination for years — until a newer, faster, stronger and better console would be made. That, of course, was the Super NES. Released in 1990 in Japan and 1991 in North America, the console introduced advanced graphics and sound capabilities compared to other consoles at the time and a variety of enhancement chips (which were integrated on game circuit boards) helped to keep it competitive in the marketplace. The SNES was a global success, becoming the best-selling console of the 16-bit era despite the relatively late start, not to mention the fierce competition from Sega’s Genesis. In North America, Super Mario World launched as a bundle with the console and demonstrated the console’s “Mode 7” pseudo-3D rendering capability. More importantly, Super Mario World gave Shigeru Miyamoto the opportunity to realize his vision and featured a new signature gameplay mechanic: His vision of Mario riding on Yoshi’s back was finally brought to life.

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Super Mario Bros. 3 had equipped the hero with a long list of power-up abilities, including fan-favourites, the Tanooki and Hammer Bros. suits. Here, though, the power-ups are slightly different. Super Mario World includes the usual Super Mushroom and Fire Flower, but this time around Mario had new tricks up his sleeves. The best is the feather power-up, which grants Mario a superhero cape and lets him float, glide, and spin-attack his way through stages. Another new and helpful innovation was the item storage box, which allowed for an extra power-up to rest in reserve until called upon. But the game’s biggest addition was Yoshi, the friendly dinosaur who could snatch enemies with his long red tongue and swallow them whole. In addition, Yoshi was able to spit fire, spit out shells, kick up deadly sand clouds, and even fly depending on the color of the turtle shells he digested. Riding Yoshi gave the standard run-and-jump Mario series’ a new twist, but it also 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 valuable 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.

Dinosaur Land makes for a different setting in the Mario universe which was mostly populated in past games with the standard fire, water, and ice world themes. The change of scenery was most refreshing at the time, and the individual levels mix things up in ways that keep it feeling fresh throughout. In addition to straightforward platforming, players must also work their way out of complicated mazes in several haunted houses. The level designs in Super Mario World are among some of the best and most challenging in any platformer. In addition, the overhead map was a huge upgrade from Super Mario Bros. 3, allowing players to travel around freely from one course to the next. Any stage that a player beats can be played again and again, which is handy since many of the game’s levels have more than one route that a player can take in order to finish the course. 24 of Super Mario World’s 74 levels contain a second, hidden exit which expands the game world even further. Just think about that — the level design in Super Mario World, is ingenious for the time.

Opinions vary on which is the best-looking 2D Mario outing, but my pick goes to Yoshi’s Island’s which I’ll talk about below. That said, Super Mario World isn’t far behind. It’s an absolutely beautiful game in its own right and even though it was the first SNES game released, Super Mario World is also one of the best-looking games on the system. More importantly, it holds up incredibly well, even today. The graphics are colorful, the animations are adorable, and there’s more variety to each level design than ever before.

Legendary composer Koji Kondo is a name that will appear throughout this series and with reason. His melodies, even those that are variations on a single theme, remain some of the best music ever composed for the medium. The music of Super Mario World might just be the best in the entire series and fills up a double disk soundtrack which contains arrangements by Soichi Noriki, and the original tracks by Kondo himself. Koji Kondo’s soundtrack greatly adds to the atmosphere, and demonstrates the range, and quality of music that could be achieved with the system’s sound chip. Meanwhile, the excellent sound effects provide another layer to the soundscape — from the bongo beat heard when Yoshi bounces around, to the musical waltz in the underwater sections, and most notable, Yoshi’s famous screech at the start of the game.

The Genesis vs Super Nintendo debate was a hot topic for any kid growing up in the ’90s and is arguably the first worthy battle in the long-running console war (even though Nintendo sold twice as many units). The Genesis was lagging in sales, but many gamers preferred Sonic the Hedgehog’s blazing-fast speed to the slow pace of Nintendo’s famous mascot. When Sonic the Hedgehog 2 came along in 1992, Sega fans exploded —claiming Sega’s cooler, edgier approach to gaming was better than Nintendo’s family-friendly vibe. The debate will forever live on as to which game and system is better. Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario World, are excellent in their own rights, but for my money, Super Mario World is still the better game. Sonic may have been the speedy, fresh newcomer, but Super Mario World is far more complex and possesses some of Nintendo’s best level design. It also has better replay value, and unlike Sonic, Super Mario World stands the test of time.

What makes the Super Mario series 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. Smart, imaginative, inventive and riveting; the only way Nintendo could follow up is to do something completely different, and they did.

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Nintendo took a radical step with Super Mario World 2 Yoshi’s Island, opting for a prequel, not a sequel, and a completely different style of game play. Gamers were yearning for a sequel to Super Mario World, and naturally, expectations were high — and naturally some gamers weren’t happy that the series star was given a backseat to a long-tongued dinosaur. In Super Mario World, the game casts players as Yoshi as he escorts Baby Mario through 48 levels in order to reunite him with his brother Luigi, who had been kidnaped by Baby Bowser’s minions. It was a ballsy move on the part of Nintendo, but thankfully, it worked. Yoshi’s Island is another prime example of Nintendo’s constant strive for perfecting video game design and a testament to the abilities of the great Shigeru Miyamoto. In 1995, along with designer Takashi Tezuka, Miyamoto managed to create another groundbreaking achievement.

Despite being released at the twilight of the console’s life, Yoshi’s Island received instant and universal acclaim and sold over four million copies. Miyamoto’s distaste for computer pre-rendered graphics found in such games as Donkey Kong Country led to Yoshi’s hand-drawn aesthetic—a style new to the series—and the beginning of a different philosophy for Nintendo. Yoshi’s Island was all about how graphics would dictate the technology and not the other way around. Yoshi’s Island pushed the capabilities of the SNES to its limits. Taking full advantage of the Super FX 2 chip, the game’s breathtaking graphics, vibrant colors and brilliantly detailed backgrounds make it the best-looking game on the Super NES and set it apart from other platformers of the time.

Besides the graphics being near revolutionary, the gameplay was also drastically different from previous installments. Although Super Mario World 2 has traces of Mario’s traditional platforming formula, Yoshi’s Island plays like a different beast. Unlike previous games, Yoshi’s Island relies on a countdown instead of a life meter. In fact, Yoshi is virtually invincible unless you fall into a bottomless pit or into lava. Throughout the game, Yoshi must carry, and protect, baby Mario on his back. If Yoshi is hit by an enemy, baby Mario will be launched into the air, causing a timer to pop up. Yoshi then has 10 seconds to get him back before Kamek’s toadies steal baby Mario and the player loses a life. Once Mario is retrieved, the countdown stops. Along the way, Yoshi also comes into contact with hidden bonus levels, rides on an indestructible canine friend named Poochie, and transforms into various vehicles such as a train, a mole, a helicopter, and a submarine. While the power-ups are extremely charming, the game doesn’t pack the punch that typical Mario games do with their special abilities. And so, while Yoshi’s Island might be a visually stunning game, the gameplay just isn’t the same. Instead of smashing bricks and hopping around on platforms, Yoshi’s Island focuses more on puzzle-solving and item-collecting. And Yoshi’s Island might just be the easiest of all the core games in the Super Mario franchise, making the replay value a little less satisfactory. There are 6 worlds overall, each being divided into several levels that can take only a few minutes to go through. Each stage holds a possibility of 100 points —  20 red coins, 30 stars, and 5 flowers. Largely the scores are worthless unless a level is completed — but if you accumulate 100 points for all 8 levels of an area, then a new stage, along with a bonus game will open up.

The boss battles are the best part of Yoshi’s Island, with each of them being unique in their own way and each presenting a different layout and strategy. Most notable is Burt the Bashful, Naval Piranha, Roger the Potted Ghost and Sluggy the Unshaven. Equally as beautiful is the soundtrack by Koji Kondo?, the greatest video game composer of all time. The in-game music consists of some of the catchiest tunes of the entire series — from the intro stage to the epic majesty of the final boss battle. In fact, the only downside to the sound design is the infamous cry of Baby Mario which can be heard whenever an enemy hits Yoshi.

While still part of the Super Mario series, Yoshi’s Island has enough gameplay ideas to constitute its own franchise. The game’s story is an interesting choice as the origin story for Mario and Luigi, and the game injected a wonderful variety into a franchise that was still growing. As for the levels themselves, their design is completely and utterly brilliant, with tons of secrets to uncover and bonus rooms to be found. The game’s only true disappointment, however, is the linearity of these levels – other than that – Yoshi’s Island is one of the greatest games on the SNES, and arguably, one of the greatest games ever made.

– Ricky D

The History of Super Mario: The NES Days
The History of Super Mario: The SNES Days
The History of Super Mario: The N64 Days
The History of Super Mario: The GameCube Days

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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‘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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‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ — A New Height to Survival-Horror

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Resident Evil 3 Nemesis

If we can forget that Nemesis was a poorly designed rubber goof in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie, we can easily state that he is the apex predator of the series. The follow-up to Resident Evil 2 had quite a few expectations to fill and, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 delivered. While not so much a fan-favorite as RE2, there was a lot to like about RE3. The return of RE‘s Jill Valentine, some new intuitive controls, and, of course, theNemesis.

RE3 marks the first time in the series where you are limited to one character – Jill. Through this, the story is slightly more focused and straightforward – despite the plot being all about Jill trying to leave Raccoon City. RE3 director Kazuhiro Aoyama cleverly sets in pieces of RE2 to make this work as both a prequel and a sequel. If you’ve never played RE2 – shame on you – you would not be able to scout notable tie-ins such as the police station. With a large majority of the building still locked up, Marvin Branagh, the wounded police officer who helps you in the second game, is still unconscious and has yet to give anyone the keycard which unlocks the emergency security system.

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Where RE3 really shines is in its latest entry of Umbrella Corps. bio-engineered tyrants called Nemesis. The hulking tank brought a new dimension to the series, invoking more cringe-inducing terror and stress than ever. As if zombies and critters jumping through windows weren’t bad enough, now you have to worry about an RPG-wielding maniac busting through a wall and chasing you around the entirety of the immediate environment – and chase is certainly brought to a whole new level indeed. It became a running joke when you would encounter a handful of zombies, but could escape unscathed by simply running into another room. Nemesis, on the other hand, will continue his pursuit no matter what room you run into. At the time, this brought a whole new level of detail in the genre. Knowing that at any given moment he will just appear and will certainly derail whatever key or plot item you’re quested to look for made Nemesis a very intense experience.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror.

The gameplay also takes a few different approaches in this game. There will be moments when you encounter Nemesis, or certain plot occasions where you will be prompted to make a decision. It was a great alteration to the series, as it added new layers and weight for the player. Another addition to the gameplay came in the form of control although as minute as it sounds, is having the ability to turn a full 180 degrees – yes you read that correctly. Resident Evil quintessentially coined the term survival-horror, and survival certainly predicates the genre. There will be times – if not numerous times, you will run out of ammo. When those moments used to occur, you would have to make your character turn in the slowest fashion imaginable to make a run for the door and to safety. It was those moments back then that would pull the player away from the action. With the addition of the quick-turn ability- which was actually first introduced in Capcom’ Dino Crisis game – it gave the player the chance to just cap a few zombies and dash creating more seamless and dynamic gameplay.

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The level design of Resident Evil 3 is grand, if not grander than RE2. A lot of the setting and scenery take place in the open air of the city and a few other places around the vicinity. RE and RE2 mostly took place indoors, and those settings helped create unique moods especially when it is all about tight corridors adding a more claustrophobic feel. Aoyama definitely went with a bigger setting and atmosphere in the follow-up. The game takes you through a police station, a hospital, a local newspaper office, a clock tower and a factory. More often than not, though, people tend to forget the scope and grandeur of RE3. Not to mention you can only… spoiler… kill Nemesis with a Rail-Gun at the end.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror. It took everything that it did so well in the previous titles and made it bigger and better. Nemesis encapsulated fear and dread in ways rarely experienced at the time. The scene where he popped through a window and chased players through the police station has always remained a nostalgic moment, much like anything that comes through a window in the RE series. In fact, a bit of advice for anyone playing the first-gen of RE titles: beware of windows.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 16, 2016.

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