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Ranking the Nintendo Consoles

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What is the best Nintendo Console?

It was in 1985 that Nintendo launched the Nintendo Entertainment System on North American shores and forever changed the video gaming industry; decades later, the company is seeing great success with the newest member in their console library, the Nintendo Switch. Now that we’re in the midst of another generation of great gaming, Goomba Stomp has decided to update our ranking of every console Nintendo has released over the years. We believe that each console on the list has had a major influence on both the industry and gaming culture, and whether for better (Super NES) or worse (Virtual Boy), the industry as a whole is indebted to Nintendo.

Quick Note: We first published this article back in 2015 when we launched our website, but while we had more (and different) writers participate in the voting process this time around, the order surprisingly hasn’t changed much. In fact, the only difference is that we’ve added the Switch to the list.

Also worth noting: Prior to 1985, Nintendo already had insane success with the Famicom and Game & Watch in Japan. However, we’ve decided to rank the consoles dating back to the Nintendo Entertainment System, since most of our writers reside in North America and Europe, and didn’t grow up playing any of the Japanese exclusives. With that out of the way, here is our list ranking all the Nintendo consoles over the years.

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Ranking the Best Nintendo Consoles

Best Nintendo Consoles #13: Virtual Boy

The Virtual Boy proved to be a dismal failure for Nintendo. It was an absolute, bonafide disaster, and supposedly forced the retirement of creator Gunpei Yokoi, the brilliant mind behind the once-successful Game & Watch (not to mention legendary producer of such games as Metroid, Donkey Kong, and Mario Bros.). It didn’t take long before Nintendo realized their mistake, and just months after its release, they decided to pull the plug.

The 32-bit system (powered by six AA batteries) was marketed as the first portable video game console capable of displaying “true 3D graphics.” Designed as a set of red-coloured VR goggles mounted on a tripod with a controller wired in, the Virtual Boy demanded users hunch over and cramp their back in order to play. It was weird, and perhaps too weird for its own good. In many ways, however, it was also ahead of its time.

The console featured sharp, high-resolution graphics, and was capable of some extraordinary gameplay. Unfortunately, the system was largely overshadowed by its controversial LED (Light Emitting Display) technology, which rendered the visuals in monochromatic red on black. Even worse, the system was not intended for use by children under the age of seven, and displayed warnings on the box and in the manual that cautioned users about long-term side effects, including permanent damage to the eyes. Those who did purchase the console complained about sickness, flashbacks, and painful migraines. Although the system was a huge failure, diehard fans still defend it to this day, praising the quality of games and the well-designed controller featuring asymmetrical button configuration, dual control pads, and comfortable handles. (Ricky D)

Ranking the Best Nintendo Consoles

Best Nintendo Consoles #12: Game Boy Color

While mostly retaining the same hardware as the original Game Boy, the Game Boy Color’s primary competitors were the much more advanced Neo Geo Pocket and the WonderSwan by Bandai (released in Japan only). Though the Game Boy Color crushed the competition in sales, it had a very short lifespan. Nintendo chopped shipments in 2001, effectively making the era of GBC only three years long. While it features a pair of secondary Zelda games as well as a pair of Pokemon titles, there really isn’t a true classic to be found in the system’s entire repertoire. Games made specifically to take advantage of the system’s hardware were few and far between, and while the addition of color was a welcome change, Nintendo and gamers were getting ready to move on.

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Best Nintendo Consoles #11: Game Boy

The iconic 8-bit handheld video game device was created by Gunpei Yokoi and Nintendo Research & Development 1 — the same staff who had designed the Game & Watch series nearly a decade earlier. Redesigned versions were released in the form of Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Light (Japan only), but for the most part, each version contains the same hardware as the original. The Game Boy was the very first internationally successful handheld gaming system, and upon its release in the United States, it sold its entire shipment of one million units within a few weeks. It was a phenomenon, and the start of the popular handheld gaming trend.

On the design side of things, the Game Boy was made simple and devoid of any true styling. The plastic is light gray in color, and has a slight texture, but that’s about it. But where the Game Boy does stand out is in build quality. It might just be the toughest gaming console ever made, sturdy enough to survive a bomb, and it’s the first video game system to travel to space.

However, the big problem with the original Game Boy is the screen. It features four levels of gray to augment the lack of back-lighting, and while players could adjust the screen’s contrast with the slider on the device’s left side, the display quality isn’t very impressive, remaining extremely grainy and difficult to see in most lighting conditions. And of course, the original Game Boy didn’t display any bright, shiny colors; instead, we got a horrid green and grey screen — a decision Nintendo made in order to save on battery life (four AA batteries last for up to thirty hours of gaming on the system).

The library of Game Boy games includes deep entries into the Super Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Final Fantasy series, and in total there were 716 games released worldwide. These games also include classics like Mario Tennis, Shantae, Kid Dracula, Metal Gear Solid, and Mortal Kombat, to name a few. And lest we forget, the Game Boy is responsible for unleashing two of gaming’s greatest phenomenons: Tetris took the world by storm, and Pokemon Red and Blue launched an international craze. The games are classic — and more importantly, they are fun, which is what truly makes any console special. Unfortunately, it isn’t the pinnacle of handheld gaming, as some would like to claim. That system comes later in this list.

Ranking the Best Nintendo Consoles

Best Nintendo Consoles #10: Game Boy Advance

The Game Boy Advance was not as revolutionary as the Game Boy Color, but it proved very profitable, selling a whopping 81.51 million units worldwide. The handheld featured a 32-bit RISC processor and a sharp, colorful, reflective LCD screen. In other words, we’re talking about a portable system that performs at roughly the same level as a Super Nintendo. With hardware comparable to the home console, the Game Boy Advance also helped further advanced sprite-based technology. In terms of battery life, GBA did fairly well. You could play 14.5 hours using only two AA batteries. In addition, it was designed for maximum comfort, and was released with a dozen accessories, including a wireless Adapter, a link cable, an e-Reader, a cleaning cartridge, and so much more.

The major downside was the lack of original games. Being able to play your favourite SNES games on the go was a major selling point, but when it came to original content, there wasn’t much to be found. Instead, the library of Game Boy Advance games is comprised mostly of remakes and re-releases, many of which were sub-par to the original games. In fact, the GBA is the only major Nintendo console to not have its own original Super Mario title. That’s not to say it wasn’t worth the $70 — two great 2D Metroid titles and the first Fire Emblem game to hit stateside was reason enough to own one. Along with a fresh, updated entry in the Castlevania series, a few critically acclaimed entries in the Mario Kart and Zelda franchises, and backward compatibility, the Game Boy Advance was a worthy successor to the original Game Boy. (Ricky D)

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Best Nintendo Consoles #9: Nintendo DS

The Nintendo DS came at the perfect time, long before mobile games such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush sold millions to just about anyone who carried a cell phone. From 2004 to 2011, the Nintendo DS dominated mobile gaming by introducing distinct new features, including two LCD screens working in tandem (the bottom one featuring a touchscreen), a built-in microphone, and support for wireless connectivity. It was the also the first device of any kind to effectively introduce touch controls, something we now take it for granted. The DS is capable of displaying 260,000 colors, and both the screens are backlit — making them easy to see outside and indoors, something the Game Boy Color couldn’t get right. To date, it’s the second-best-selling platform on this list; in fact, all Nintendo DS models combined have sold 154.01 million units, making it the second-best-selling video game console of all time period (beaten out by the PlayStation 2, which sold 155 million units).

With the DS, Nintendo began to market to demographics beyond typical young-adult males. The DS featured a strong library, introduced online play, and catered to both the hardcore and casual gamers alike, giving them theProfessor Layton franchise, WarioWare, a new Animal Crossing game, a brand-new 2D Super Mario title, and even a Grand Theft Auto game. Add on three excellent Castlevania titles, Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time, as well as a ton of Pokemon games, and you’ve got a library that justified the cheap $150 price tag.

So why does it rank so low on our list? The DS era was sort of an experimental phase for Nintendo that would eventually bring us the much-improved 3DS. In truth, many DS games have not aged well, and although the system introduced some excellent new features, we simply prefer other consoles over this. (Ricky D)

Ranking-the-Best-Nintendo-Consoles

Best Nintendo Consoles #8: Wii U

Nintendo’s Wii U console has somewhat of a bad reputation, and with reason, since it is perhaps Nintendo’s greatest commercial failure.

That said, a console should never be judged by the number of units in sales. The Dreamcast is without a doubt one of the greatest consoles ever produced, and yet sales did not meet Sega’s expectations. Despite several price cuts, the Dreamcast sold only 10.6 million units worldwide. Of course, we all know what happened next: Sega discontinued the Dreamcast, and respectively withdrew from the console business. However, Nintendo isn’t Sega, and the company was never in any danger of closing shop. In fact, despite the low number of sales, Nintendo at least made back its money on the WiiU — and more importantly, one can argue that the Wii U’s gamepad served as inspiration for the Nintendo Switch.

In terms of computing power, the Wii U lags behind the field. It has practically no AAA 3rd party support, and its primary feature — the gamepad — has proven integral to only a handful of games. That said, despite the Switch poaching, the Wii U has a great library of exclusive games, such as Super Mario 3D World and Pikmin 3, that still has us going back to play it every so often. The Wii U is also home to amazing HD remakes like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and DuckTales, as well as surprise hits such as Hyrule Warriors and Captain Toad, not to mention the critically acclaimed Bayonetta 2.

And let’s not forget that Nintendo released an exciting new IP in Splatoon, a third-person shooter which went on to sell one million copies in less than a month, and Super Mario Maker, the company’s first robust level editor, with the option to download and play levels created by members of the online Wii U community. Furthermore, the Wii U library includes Yoshi’s Woolly World, Star Fox Zero, Xenoblade Chronicles X,and dozens of indie darlings like Shovel Knight, Adventures of Pip, and Guacamelee!. The WiiU is also compatible with most Wii games, and includes an online virtual store where you can download titles from previous Nintendo systems, including the NES, Super NES, N64, Gameboy, Gameboy Advance and more.

As someone who’s owned every Nintendo console, I’m not interested in Nintendo having the most powerful system. Once again, it all comes down to games, and the Wii U has all the above and more. (Ricky D)

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Best Nintendo Consoles #7: 3DS | New 3DS XL

The surest way to make a system’s greatness apparent isn’t hardware specs or a sleek, smooth design; it’s games, plain and simple. I bought the Wii U and 3DS at the same time, around the time the former released. Yet for all the dazzling HD tech behind the latest home console, it was the little portable that would take up all my gaming attention for a good long while, for one reason and one reason only: games. Nintendo’s 3DS may have had a slow start, but after a couple of sizeable hits, suddenly the dam burst.

The 3DS’ library wound down its life not only full of a vast multitude of titles, but a wallet-scaring number of absolutely fantastic ones. Super Mario 3D Land, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Resident Evil: Revelations, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, Pokemon X/Y, Bravely Default, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Kid Icarus: Uprising and oh-my-god so many more. That’s not even counting the remakes of Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask and Star Fox 64, or all the incredibly addicting eShop downloadables, Virtual Console hits, and the obsession-inducing StreetPass diversions.

Sure, it doesn’t have the power of Sony’s Vita (except in sales comparisons), a second analog stick would’ve been great (the New 3DS’ nub doesn’t quite do the trick), and the 3D is more of an interesting technology gimmick than a gameplay enhancer, but neither these nor any other niggling issues have mattered to me in the slightest. Nintendo’s 3DS quickly shot up my personal list of favourite consoles because of the sheer number of amazing experiences I’ve had, and with an amazingly massive back catalog, it looks to stay that way for quite a while. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking Nintendo Consoles

Best Nintendo Consoles #6: Wii

Released November 19th, 2006, the Wii was Nintendo’s seventh generation console. Competing against the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, the Wii held the lead in the “console wars,” selling more than 101 million units in the first quarter of 2012. With the Wii, Nintendo revolutionized the way we play video games, focusing on innovation and gameplay over fancy graphics and multimedia. And with it came the Wii remote, a handheld controller that made us play games using movement. The Wii also focused on a broad target demographic, with an array of first-party and third-party games for everyone. It offered classic mainstays of Mario, Zelda, and Metroid titles, (most notably Super Mario Galaxy), but also introduced us to grittier and darker games like MadworldNo More Heroes, Silent Hills: Shattered Memory and Manhunt 2.

The Wii was also excellent for being fully backward compatible, with the ability to still play your GameCube games, as well as use the old controller as well. The Wii Virtual Console even had an extensive library of classic titles, where players were able to purchase games from the NES, Sega Genesis, N64, and even the Neo-Geo. The Wii maintained its dominance for several years, but slowly started to fade out as most customers transferred into high-definition televisions, and the Wii graphics started to pale next to the 360 and the PS3. However, the Wii still stands as one the great consoles today despite its lack of technological advancements in the console races. Innovative gameplay and design are what really made this model shine. (Aaron Santos)

Ranking Nintendo Consoles

Best Nintendo Consoles #5: Nintendo Entertainment System

The Japanese video game giant Nintendo emerged as a global leader in the video game industry when it unveiled the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. The NES went on to become the best-selling gaming console of its time, and thirty years later, the NES still plays a major influence on the entire industry. Now, I’ve heard the argument that the admiration toward the NES is largely due to nostalgia, but one can make that very same argument towards anything we hold dear, including any one of the consoles appearing on this list. However, the Nintendo Entertainment System stands the test of time, proven by the simple fact that gamers still purchase and/or play NES titles to this day. And even though Nintendo stopped production of software for the NES, the aftermarket library keeps growing, with countless new titles made by many diehard game designers who’ve studied the nuts and bolts of the Ricoh 6502 processor and put their practice to good use. Some even go the extra mile and produce cartridges, boxes, and manuals, and sell their creations online.

This console helped revitalize the US video game industry following the video game crash of 1983; it introduced a plethora of now iconic video game characters, a ton of accessories  and it forever changed the relationship of console manufacturers and third-party software developers. The NES was the first true must-have video game console, and if you couldn’t afford one, Nintendo also changed the rental market by allowing video stores to rent their systems and games. But put aside how it saved and changed the industry — what makes the console great is the library of games.

The NES boasts a grand total of 826 titles to choose from (713 licensed and 113 unlicensed games), including a number of groundbreaking hits. Super Mario Bros. pioneered side-scrollers, while The Legend of Zelda helped popularize battery-backed save functionality. Metroid was lauded for being one of the first video games to feature a female protagonist, and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is still regarded as one of the greatest sports games ever made. Has there been any other console that released hit after hit at the rate Nintendo did during the NES days? Along with these titles, there is also Castlevania, Mega Man, Metal Gear, Mother, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Contra, Kid Icarus, Ninja Gaiden, Kirby’s Adventure, DuckTales, and the many sequels that outdid their predecessors. Take for instance Super Mario Bros. 3, which was leaps and bounds beyond any other game released back in the day, not to mention the five Mega Man sequels, which are still considered the very best in the franchise.

Here’s a console that changed the industry as a whole, and continues to inspire and entertain to this day. For all these reasons and more, the NES is, in my opinion, the greatest video game console ever made — Nintendo or otherwise. (Ricky D)

Ranking Nintendo Consoles

Best Nintendo Consoles #4: N64

The Nintendo 64 is probably Nintendo’s most polarizing console released to date. Ask someone about it, and they’ll most likely rank it either among the best consoles ever released, or way down at the bottom of the list with the likes of the Virtual Boy and the N-Gage. Some simply couldn’t get past its weirdly shaped controller, and many criticized Nintendo’s choice of sticking with cartridges when CD-ROM was already the norm, but no one can deny the console’s impact on the industry, in terms of both hardware and software.

Nintendo consoles have always been at the forefront of innovation, and the N64 was no exception. With a growing trend towards multiplayer games, the N64 was the first console to launch with four controller ports. The controllers, which plugged into said ports featured the first digital thumb-stick, allowed the player 360-degree control over their in-game avatar — and best of all, the stick could be controlled using just a thumb, unlike those huge analog joysticks from past consoles. Those three-pronged controllers were also the first on a home console to have a rumble feature, thanks to the Rumble Pak which debuted alongside Star Fox 64, and it also pioneered the use of trigger-style buttons with its Z-Trigger. Yes, the Nintendo 64 was behind on the times when it came to the use of CD-ROM technology, but it changed the industry none the less. Four controller ports, thumb-sticks, trigger buttons and the rumble feature all became industry standard moving forward.

Cool hardware innovations are always welcome, but consoles are remembered for their greatest games, and the Nintendo 64 had no shortage of industry-changing titles. GoldenEye 007 took the beloved genre of first-person shooters, which had previously only found true success on the PC platform, and made it viable on consoles. With its atmospheric single-player campaign and its wide array of competitive multiplayer options, GoldenEye paved the way for the Halos and Call of Duty games to come. Super Mario 64 was the first game to feature a camera that could be moved freely and independently of the character, giving the player freedom and control in a 3D space like never before, and changing 3D game development forever. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, to this day, is seen by many as the greatest video game of all time. And the list goes on: Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Banjo-Kazooie, Super Smash Bros, Star Fox 64, Diddy Kong Racing, Perfect Dark, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and on and on. Almost every console released to date has some great games and a handful of true masterpieces to their credit, but the Nintendo 64 has dozens of genre-defining and awe-inspiring classics.

While the N64’s collection of games is its greatest strength, the lack of depth in its library is a glaring weak point to many. The mass majority of great N64 titles, including all those mentioned above, were developed by Nintendo or Rareware. There were great games from other developers (WWF No MercyStar Wars: Shadows of the Empire, and Resident Evil 2 to name some), but they were few are far between. Due to the limitations of the cartridge format, and the difficulty of developing games for the N64 compared to the PS1, many 3rd party developers opted to simply ignore the console, which resulted in the N64’s game library topping out at about 500 games, whereas the PlayStation has over 3000 titles in its arsenal.

It’s very easy to draw parallels between the Nintendo 64 and the the Wii U; both systems launched with hardware that was not up to par when compared to their contemporaries, which resulted in them having a severe lack of 3rd-party support, and thus underwhelming game libraries. The difference is that while the Wii U has a handful of amazing first party games, the N64 has dozens. For those who look at sheer numbers, yes, the PlayStation undoubtedly has the larger library, but at the end of the day, it comes down to quality versus quantity, and I’d always take the former over the latter. It may not have been the technological marvel of its time, and it certainly didn’t get the 3rd-party love that Nintendo would have hoped for, but the Nintendo 64’s elite game library gives it just enough to stand tall amongst the greatest consoles ever made. (Matt De Azevedo)

Ranking-Nintendo-Consoles

Best Nintendo Consoles #3: GameCube

Charm can go a long way. Just ask the average-looking person dating someone out of their league, or the not-so-smart guy at work who somehow got the promotion you know you’d be more qualified for. Nintendo’s GameCube may have lacked some of the more obvious desirable video game console traits, but it more than made up for it with quirky appeal and some of the most offbeat and memorable risks of Nintendo’s long history. Right off the bat, you couldn’t help notice that this adorable little box was purple, with a handle on the end that made it seem more like a portable toy than a high-powered gaming machine. There was a choice immediately to be made, and you either walked away, or (like myself), not only rolled with it but cracked a big smile.

The GameCube may be the most “Nintendo” console the company has ever made, and those who stuck around were treated to the kind of fun magic not to be found anywhere else. Experimentation like a cel-shaded Zelda, Marios’s FLUDD, and the very idea of a 3D Metroid game not only working but blowing people away, cemented Nintendo’s desire to innovate. The mood was contagious, with companies like Capcom pushing the limits of weirdness with titles like Viewtiful Joe and Killer 7, and Resident Evil 4 took the series in an awesome direction that would shape the franchise for years to come. The Gamecube may not have had the packed library of its competitors, but what it did have were destined to become classics. Even the controller has garnered its share of fierce loyalty, with many Smash Bros. players (loads of whom still put Melee at the top of their list) preferring its eccentricities to a more standard device.

The GameCube didn’t try to be cool; it was comfortable with what it was, and from the moment the iconic startup screen sounds its familiar tones (unless you found one of several Easter eggs), one can’t help but be endeared all over again. (Patrick Murphy)

Switch

Best Nintendo Consoles #2: Switch

Nintendo’s latest addition to its illustrious history of gaming consoles can already be considered one of its finest. From its portability to its ever-growing collection of wonderful games, the Nintendo Switch offers an experience for everybody, something not many consoles can boast.

The secret to the Nintendo Switch’s success lies in the DNA of every past Nintendo console. Every time the Switch vibrates, it’s a reminder of the Nintendo 64’s rumble pack; every time the motion controls are activated, it’s a reminder of the Wii remote; every time the switch is removed from the dock and taken on a journey, it’s a reminder of every handheld console Nintendo has produced. Every piece that makes the Nintendo Switch is a nostalgic adventure back into the past.

But while that might sound rigidly static in its approach, it’s surprisingly innovative. The Nintendo Switch has a melody for every audience. There’s not a time nor place where the Switch can’t be played, whether it’s on the train to work or laying on the coach after a tiring day. It’s appeal to both the hardcore and the casual gamer allows it to sit in several different markets and create enjoyment for entirely different reasons. Its flexibility is perhaps the feature that the Nintendo Switch will inevitably be remembered for. (James Baker)

Ranking Nintendo Consoles

Best Nintendo Consoles #1: Super Nintendo

For many gamers in my generation, the first console that they learned to love was the NES. Not so for myself. Though I did enjoy that ugly flip-lidded machine for a year or so from kindergarten onward, it was the SNES that gave me my first real taste of what would become a life-long hobby. When my brother and I opened the SNES on Christmas morning all those years ago, it was pretty much an instant addiction. We started with Super Mario World and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, but it wasn’t long before we were moving on to the bevy of exciting titles that were constantly being released on the 16-bit juggernaut. While my brother started to drift away from video games, preferring more casual fare as the years went on, I only sunk deeper. Titles like Super MetroidThe Legend of Zelda: A Link to the PastChrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy VI only further cemented my hardcore devotion to gaming in each of its facets and iterations.

A stellar step forward for consoles and arguably the finest machine Nintendo has ever produced, the SNES defined and refined what gaming could be for generations to come, all while launching a dozen franchises that continue even to this day. Unfortunately, a series of missteps from Nintendo over the years — from a failed collaboration with Sony, whose PlayStation would eventually topple Nintendo from the top of the heap, to the gimmicky consoles and handhelds which have defined the company of late — has caused the storied legend of the SNES and its insanely impressive line-up of genre-defining titles to be largely been relegated to the hope of glory days past rather than the expectations one might attach to a promising future. Nevertheless, I’ve owned a dozen consoles and handhelds since I first encountered this tiny box of joy, yet none have ever filled me with the charming warmth that this nostalgic contraption still holds.

Long live the SNES! (Mike Worby)

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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‘Castlevania Bloodlines’: The Official Sega Genesis Sequel to Bram Stoker’s Hit Novel, Dracula

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Castlevania Bloodlines

Castlevania isn’t a dialogue-heavy series by any means, but it’s still home to one of gaming’s most compelling narratives. Equipped with only their ancestral weapon, the legendary Vampire Killer, descendants of the Belmont clan face off against Count Dracula every 100 years like clockwork (give or take). His resurrection is inevitable. Just as good will always triumph over evil, evil will rise again. Castlevania was about the cyclical nature of good and evil long before Dracula mused about the nature of humanity in Symphony of the Night. Castlevania chronicled the Belmont family’s centuries-long struggle to keep Count Dracula at bay, game after game. Of course, he wasn’t the Count Dracula– more a representation of evil– but that was as much a given as a Belmont rising up to wield Vampire Killer. Then Castlevania Bloodlines happened. 

Released in 1995 exclusively for the Sega Genesis, Bloodlines may have looked like any other Castlevania game, but it marked a series of eclectic firsts for the franchise. Gone are the Belmonts and the game neither takes place inside of or involves getting to Dracula’s Castle. Bloodlines is even titled Vampire Killer in Japan, creating a bigger divide between it and previous entries, but that hardly compares to Bloodlines’ strangest contribution to the series: making Bram Stoker’s Dracula canon. 

The nature of how Dracula fits into the Castlevania mythos isn’t as plain and simple as just taking the book as writ as canon, but it fits much cleaner than one would expect. Although Bloodlines may lift elements from the novel with its own embellishments, its changes are ultimately inconsequential. Quincey Morris doesn’t have a son in the novel, but he’s the only major character alongside Dracula not to keep a journal, keeping his background relatively obscured. Quincey also doesn’t sport his signature bowie knife in Bloodlines’ backstory, finishing Dracula off with a stake (instead of the Vampire Killer for whatever reason.) 

There’s no mention of Jonathan Harker, Mina, or Abraham Van Helsing– and Dracula’s motives aren’t at all in-line with his novel counterpart’s– but Konami’s references to the novel make it clear that audiences are intended to consider the novel canon even if the details don’t quite match up. It seems a strange choice, especially for a franchise that was pushing its tenth anniversary by the time Bloodlines released in 1995, but it’s not a totally random decision on Konami’s part. Much like how Super Castlevania IV’s tonal maturity gave it a greater layer of depth, Bloodlines thrives off its connection to Bram Stoker’s Dracula

If there’s one immediate benefit to tying Dracula to Castlevania: Bloodlines, it’s grounding the latter in some semblance of reality. Set in 1917, Vampire Killer was the most modern Castlevania to date– not just at its release, but until Aria of Sorrow was released in 2003. The games were never period pieces, but they were set far enough in the past where literal Universal Monsters wouldn’t keep the series from staying narratively grounded. More importantly, the series’ settings were always consistently gothic, creating a unique sense of style around Dracula himself rather than the time period. 

Bloodlines opts for a wildly different approach altogether when it comes to setting, doubling down on the series’ historical elements while keeping Super Castlevania IV’s darker tone intact. Dracula feels a part of the world, rather than the world of Castlevania feeling a part of Dracula. At the same time, Bram Stoker’s Dracula helps ground the very minimal plot by giving John and Eric’s trek across Europe greater scope. John and Eric even have a personal stake in the plot, having witnessed Quincey’s death. It’s all window dressing, but Bloodlines’ assimilation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula gives the series some narrative legitimacy to rub shoulders with its high quality gameplay. 

The connections to Bram Stoker’s Dracula are admittedly loose, but they’re loose enough to work in the game’s benefit. Dracula is structured as an epistolary novel with chapters divided in letters, journal entries, articles, and logs. The story is told coherently, but this approach often results in the point of view & setting changing. While uncertainly a direct reference to the novel, Bloodlines similarly allows players to switch between John & Eric whenever they use a continue on Easy mode, and each stage takes place in a different country rather than just Transylvania. 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula may give Bloodlines its foundation, but it’s that globetrotting that gives the game its identity. Stage 1 opens in Romania, the ruins of Dracula’s Castle left to time after his previous defeat. Where other games would immediately transition into the depths of Castle Dracula, Bloodlines’ Stage 2 instead takes players to the lost city of Atlantis in Greece, while Stage 3 involves scaling the Leaning Tower of Pisa in order to slay a demon at the top. There’s a grandiosity to the stage design simply not present in previous entries. Not just in terms of scope, but in actual structure. 

Only six stages long, Bloodlines is the shortest of the mainline Castlevania games, but it makes up for its lack of length with longer stages overall. The main story falls on the shorter side, but the stage to stage pacing ensures that Bloodlines neither outstays its welcome or goes too soon. While a Stage 7 may have done the game some good, Bloodlines’ six stages offer some of the tightest action-platforming in the franchise. Enemies are by no means infrequent, and Bloodlines requires players to understand both John & Eric’s unique platforming skills by Stage 3, outright preventing progress should players fail to adapt.

John’s unique platforming ability will be familiar to all those who played Super Castlevania IV as, predictably, he can use the Vampire Killer to hang. This time around, however, John can whip onto just about any ceiling. Eric, on the other hand, has a charged jump that thrusts him into the air when released. Eric’s jump ignores platforms entirely, allowing him a degree of verticality Castlevania typically doesn’t give to players. Stage 3 even features a room that’s a bottomless pit for Eric, but easy platforming for John thanks to its whip. Subsequently, there’s a room where John can’t make progress due to the ceiling, but Eric can jump right through.

John and Eric’s abilities are natural extensions & evolutions of Simon’s from Super CV IV, just split between the both of them, but it’s also worth noting how Bloodlines’ more involved platforming helps to further flesh out Castlevania’s world. Bram Stoker’s Dracula coupled with the European setting did more for the series’ world-building at the time than any of its predecessors, save for Rondo of Blood. It’s not often that a video game series absorbs a literary classic into its main plot, but Castlevania handles it surprisingly well. 

It’s fitting that Castlevania Bloodlines is titled Vampire Killer in Japan. At its core, Vampire Killer is a recontextualization of Castlevania. The story is still framed through the Belmonts’ struggle against Dracula, but the scope is wider, extending mediums in the process. Vampire Killer is about the legacy of the Vampire Killer and the vampire killers whose fates are sealed by the whip. Symphony of the Night may be a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines set the stage for Symphony to tell a traditional and intimate story.

More important than anything, though, Castlevania taking Bram Stoker’s Dracula and making it a part of its canon is just so outlandish that it makes perfect sense. The series that regularly featured Universal Monsters as bosses was never going to ignore the novel forever. That Bloodlines uses the novel tactfully and in a game where its presence is appropriate– intentional or otherwise– weirdly elevates Castlevania as a franchise. Castlevania isn’t just a Dracula story, it’s the Dracula story. And of all the games to make that declaration with, Bloodlines is a damn good choice. 

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XO19: Top 10 Best Announcements of the Show

Xbox just had their best XO presentation ever, and it wasn’t even close. Here’s a rundown of the best announcements from XO19.

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Microsoft had a lot to prove going into its fifth annual XO showcase. Console launches are on the horizon, cloud competitor Google Stadia is about to ship to early adopters, and Game Pass subscribers are as hungry as ever for new additions to the lineup. Then there’s the fact that XO has always been looked down upon by the gaming community in general as a lackluster, padded presentation.

All of that changed with XO19. This was, by far, the best XO in the event’s history. In fact, it featured more shocking reveals and genuinely impressive announcements than a good deal of Microsoft’s recent E3 press conferences. From new IP reveals, to first-time looks at gameplay, to a couple “I never would’ve believed you a week ago” shockers, it’s clear that Xbox stepped up its game from years past. Here’s our list of the best announcements of the show.

10. Everwild Reveal

It’s not too often that we get to experience a new IP from Rare. Their last attempt, Sea of Thieves, was a fully multiplayer, always-online affair that gradually garnered a cult following thanks to some of the best community engagement and most consistent content updates in the industry.

We don’t know what type of game Everwild is yet, but it’s certainly oozing that same colorful, ambient charm that made players fall in love with Sea of Thieves all those years ago. Seeing as how we only got a cinematic teaser, though, it might be quite some time before we’re running around these gorgeous environments.


9. ID@Xbox Lineup

The ID@Xbox team has pulled it off again. Despite being stuck with an almost insultingly poor time slot in the presentation, several of the indies shown off in this short montage rivaled some of the show’s AAA spotlights. It had everything from high-profile indies like Streets of Rage 4, Touhou Luna Nights, and the Yacht Club Games-published Cyber Shadow, to more modest beauties like SkateBIRD, Haven, Cris Tales, and she dreams elsewhere.

The best part? All of these are launching on Game Pass day and date. The worst part? No actual dates were announced for anything shown. Regardless, it’s encouraging that so many high quality indies are continuing to come to Xbox (and that relationships with Devolver Digital and Yacht Club are rock-solid).


8. West of Dead Reveal/Open Beta

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Raw Fury has one of the better eyes in the indie publishing scene. Gems like GoNNER, Dandara, and Bad North have all released under their watch, and West of Dead might be their best acquisition yet. It’s a heavily-stylized twin stick shooter that switches things up by making tactical cover a core part of the experience.

The trailer hinted at roguelike elements being present, and the ever-popular procedurally generated levels should significantly up replayability. How it plays, however, remains to be seen…unless you have an Xbox, in which case you can play the exclusive open beta now before the full game comes to all platforms next year.


7. Halo Reach Release Date

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The Master Chief Collection has long been the one golden goose that endlessly eludes those outside of the Xbox ecosystem. Earlier this year, though, Microsoft made waves when it announced that it was bringing the entire collection over to PC. Reach is the first step in that process, and it’s finally making its way to both PC and Xbox One as part of the MCC on December 3rd.

It’s just a date, but the fact that so many new players get to experience one of Halo‘s most beloved outings at last easily made it one of the highlights of the night.


6. Grounded Reveal

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Who woulda thought? Fresh off releasing one of the best RPGs in years with The Outer Worlds, Obsidian decided to show off a passion project from one of its smaller teams: Grounded. The premise? Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Survival Edition.

Players take control of kids the size of ants as they fight off actual bugs, cook, craft armor and weapon upgrades, and build shelter to survive in the wilderness of someone’s backyard. As silly as it sounds and looks, and as unexpected a project it is for Obsidian to undertake, it genuinely looks rather promising. The cheerful color palette is a welcome contrast to the dark, brooding aesthetic so many other survival games have adopted. There are plenty of details left to be uncovered, but if early impressions are anything to go by, this is one to keep on your radar early next year.


5. Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal

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Age of Empires is one of the most esteemed strategy franchises in history. Despite having this beloved IP in their back pocket, however, Microsoft hasn’t published a new mainline game in the series since 2005. Age of Empires IV was originally announced over two years ago, and after buttering everyone up with the release of Age of Empires II Definitive Edition that afternoon, the first glimpse of gameplay was finally shown at XO19.

Simply put, the game looks gorgeous. Every building is full of detail and the countryside looks surprisingly lush and picturesque. Witnessing hundreds of units charging down the valley towards the stronghold in the trailer was mind-blowing as an old-school fan. They didn’t show off any innovations or moment-to-moment gameplay, but it’s looking more and more like the future of the franchise is safe in Relic’s hands.


4. Final Fantasy Blowout

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Xbox’s success in Japanese markets has become something of a running joke over the years. Though inroads were clearly made with Bandai Namco, many more Japanese publishers won’t go within a mile of the platform. Possibly through working with Square Enix’s western division to put the latest Tomb Raider and Just Cause entries on board, it looks like the main branch has finally decided to give Xbox players a chance.

Starting this holiday, Game Pass subscribers will gradually get every single-player Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy VII. More shocking still, The Verge reported that the Xbox team is working to get the massively popular MMO Final Fantasy XIV over as well. The sheer value of having every post-Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game included in Game Pass (even XV) is ridiculous. It remains to be seen what the rollout cadence of these ten titles will look like, but considering how long each of these are, one per month wouldn’t shock or disappoint.


3. The Reign of Project xCloud

With Stadia launching just next week, Microsoft had been surprisingly quiet on their cloud gaming front up to this point. The service had gone into preview for those lucky enough to get in and, by most accounts, it had been fairly well-received. The real question came down to what Xbox was going to do to make itself stand out from its competition.

The bombs dropped here felt like the equivalent to the thrashing Sony gave to Microsoft back at E3 2013. Microsoft shadow dropped 40+ new games into Preview for players to test (for free) including Devil May Cry 5, Tekken 7, Bloodstained, and Ace Combat 7. Even better, xCloud will support third-party controllers including the DUALSHOCK 4 and will finally show up on Windows 10 PCs in 2020.

Perhaps the most damning announcement, however, is that xCloud will be integrated with Game Pass starting next year. Only having to pay for a Game Pass subscription to access 100+ games and play them in the cloud (including Halo, Forza, The Outer Worlds, and all those Final Fantasy titles) makes xCloud a far better value than Stadia right out of the gate. If this didn’t force Google to adjust its strategy, we might be looking at a very short cloud gaming war.


2. Square Sharing the Kingdom Hearts Love

Kingdom Hearts 3 releasing on Xbox One was somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, players who had left the PlayStation ecosystem after playing the first games had a chance to see the arc’s conclusion. On the other hand, new players had no options for going back and experiencing the series’ roots.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5+2.5 Remix and Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue finally coming to Xbox next year is a godsend for younger players and new players alike. More important, however, is the tearing down of those over 15+ years old exclusivity walls. Just like with many of the Final Fantasys, the main Kingdom Hearts games had been married to PlayStation systems for years. This shift at Square is an exciting one, and it bodes particularly well for the next generation of Xbox hardware.


1. Yakuza Finally Goes Multi-Console

It seems like Phil Spencer’s trips to Japan finally paid off. In what was arguably the most shocking announcement of XO19 (right next to Kingdom Hearts), it was revealed that SEGA is taking the Yakuza series multi-console at last. Not only are Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1+2 coming to Xbox, but all three are going to Game Pass next year as well.

Does this mean support from Japanese studios will increase across the board? Of course not. But getting big names like Bandai Namco, Square Enix, and SEGA on board is nothing if not encouraging. Xbox is clearly pulling out all the stops to ensure a diverse suite of third-party support come Scarlett’s launch next year, and it’s the healthiest the platform has looked in a very long time.

Honorable Mentions:

Bleeding Edge Release Date

KartRider Drift Reveal/Closed Beta Announcement

Last Stop Reveal

Wasteland 3 Release Date

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‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures

Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.

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Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple of days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?

Setting the Scene

Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.

There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.

In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.

Rebuilding a Community

So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).

Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.

While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.

Ambient Appeal

Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.

In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page-turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.

Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.

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