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May 25, 2018

Top 12 Annoyances: Mario Series Edition

Once again, back to the Mario well for me! No matter how many Steam games I play now, I just keep returning to Nintendo franchises when it’s time to make a Top 12 list. I know, I know. It’s easy. In my defense, I have been playing Nintendo franchises far longer than any games on Steam, so I know them more and can make more complete lists.

Oh, this could be applicable to any franchise. Most famously, I remember many YouTube videos doing this concept for the Pokémon series (except they could list over 50 annoyances, go figure). I went through my knowledge of the Mario franchise and pinpointed twelve things that personally annoy me greatly in the franchise. Obviously, this means a ground rule must be set: Each item of the list must be in the franchise itself. I can’t rely on fan interpretations or theories (like “Mario is secretly a psycho OMG”). Nope. Also must keep it to the games, no movie or TV series or anything such.

12. Toad…?
Toad, you're not bad...
You could be way better.
Let’s start with an annoyance that many of us agree on: Toad. The mushroom-headed citizen of the Mushroom Kingdom, and all of the people similar to him… but, especially, him. He’s been despised ever since seven of him told us that the Princess was in another castle. Unfortunately, however helpful we can make him in newer games, he still falls prey to a poor decision in voice-acting. His voice is grating, annoying. It’s not helping that, much like Princess Peach, he and his fellows constantly get kidnapped or put themselves in danger, forcing them to scream for Mario to come and help them. Always in the same irritating tone. Sorry. I don’t hate Toad as much as others might. He does have a lot of elements to him that bug me, but ultimately he’s not the worst case. And, granted, tere have been representatives of his kind who have been given larger roles, like Captain Toad, or the blue and yellow ones in NSMBWii...

11. Ukiki and other hat-stealers
Get your own hat!
There’s nothing an adventurer hates more than having their possessions stolen. Try it if you’re dungeon-mastering a tabletop RPG. Super Mario 64 is a fantastic game, admittedly flawed but it’s one of thousands of great games where the flaws aren't enough to make one dislike the game. This litle element is no exception: Annoying, yes, but not a strike major enough to make one hate SM64. Ukiki the monkey shows up in a level or two, and its primary reason to exist is to steal Mario’s hat. That wouldn’t be so bad, except for some reason it causes Mario to start losing HP. And in a game where the maximum HP is 8, this is kind of a big deal. Then there’s also Klepto, the vulture with a rather appropriate name, who will also steal Mario’s hat, for the same result. Super Mario Sunshine also does it. Later games, thankfully, don’t have this feature. Oh well, it made for an interesting gameplay mechanic when Yoshi, Luigi and Wario joined for the Super Mario 64 remake on the Nintendo DS. Here, putting on a different hero's hat turned you into that hero, so having that hat stolen meant losing whatever abilities you could access at the moment.

You! Go annoy somebody else!

10. The topography of the Mushroom Kingdom
From New Super Mario Bros. U.
A series can’t go thirty-plus years without accumulating a bunch of inconsistencies. That’s why the Simpsons canon is so messed up nowadays. Video games taking place over areas of various types indicate an explorer-type hero. Mario sees grasslands, deserts, waters, isles of giants, icebergs, the skies, even pipe mazes and Hell itself, but it’s only in that precise order in one game. No game in the massive franchise has exactly the same layout for the Mushroom Kingdom. The topography always differs. Mind you, I’m probably the only one annoyed by this, and I’m not even good at geography. It also shows up in the multiple games that aren’t platformers. It’s ultimately understandable, but it certainly does make for one mess of a map in the end, when every world keeps changing place, or appearing/disappearing at will…

9. All the flight items
You'd think the hat would just fly off his head, leaving him
stranded on the ground. "Come back here!"
One issue that has been bugging me a lot lately in the Mario series is how, when it comes to power-ups, the games just can’t settle on a single item for flight. Granted, every flight item seems to have a different secondary ability. I do, however, kind of wished they’d settle on one instead of jumping around. The Super Leaf did let Mario strike enemies by spinning his tail… except the cape did the same, one platform game later. But then again, the Tanuki leaf let Mario turn to stone for a moment. And the cape could be used to bounce mid-air, and sometimes do miniature earthquakes. The Winged Cap had endless flight as long as you knew how to hover. The Red Star in Super Mario Galaxy had one ability: You could stop mid-flight to change direction, like that makes sense. As for Odyssey, Mario just had to capture any flying enemy that wasn’t already wearing a hat. Just… Pick one and stick to it, dagnabbit!

The cape is pretty fun.
And if you learn to glide, you can skip huge areas!

8. Bowser’s size
Whoa Bowser1 How did you get so large?
Did you eat all your crusts?
More inconsistencies! A lot of studios, for animated films and video games alike, tend to keep some sort of chart that indicates the sizes of characters. Makes it simpler to compare, contrast, and not change the size of any character accidentally during the animation of a scene. The Mario franchise has been going for a long while, and Nintendo just can’t seem to decide what Bowser’s actual size is. Sometimes he’s just a bit taller than tall Mario. Other times he’s twice the size of the tall Mario, and sometimes he’s even bigger. Make up your mind goddammit! Granted, maybe he suffers from the Ant-Man syndrome. Went around changing size so often he just can’t remember what his usual height is.

7. Too much Bowser
Here, have a happy dancing Bowser.
Speaking of the grand antagonist of the franchise… how about we change that tune once in a while? I’ve got nothing against the guy, Bowser is a delightfully complex character when you dig past the simple motivations he has in platform games, and check for his more developed self in the various RPGs. Unfortunately, it’s like the franchise just can’t make a game without him somewhere. I get it, he’s important. I’d love some variety from time to time, especially when it comes to platform games where he’s been the big bad for an overwhelming majority of games. Sometimes it’s his son. The Mario games in other genres (mostly RPGs) shake it up with new villains but always feel forced to add him in somehow. Even the crossover between Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi had TWO Bowsers. I’ll go back to Luigi’s Mansion, I guess… Oh wait no, he's referenced in there too!

6. The Blue Shell
Geting too easy?
I'm coming for you.
While I don’t dislike the Mario Kart sub-franchise, I understand many of the complaints people have towards it. This is a racing series we love, yet we also love to hate it. I’m still not over the overpowered AI in Mario Kart DS. Of course, most items available in a race have their justifications. The Blue Shell is, obviously, the item that makes the game never too easy even for a good player: By seeking out the person in first place and leaving them stranded in place for a second or two, others can take the lead. See, it’s an understandable item, competition-wise. Nobody likes a game that becomes too easy. But at the same time, this thing has been the burden of every completionist, every person playing the game alone, and every person that plays the game with friends and has the poor luck of always having others getting that damn spiky monster. I’m ranting, but ultimately it’s only number 6 because it’s not the biggest complaint I have about the series, by far.

5. “Underground Monkeys”
This is the name of a trope, because I use TVTropes way too often. The phrase commonly refers to any enemy design that is replicated within a series. Turns out, inventing new enemies is difficult! It’s frequently easier to introduce new variations of existing creatures than to build new ones from scratch. And of course, throughout its History, the Mario franchise has made great use of this. It started with green-shelled Koopas, which would fall off ledges, and red-shelled ones, which were smart enough not to send themselves to their deaths. That was all. Combine the accumulation of platform games and RPGs with the constant need to make new enemies and reinvent old ones, and you’ve got more versions of all the classic enemies than you can count. I like to use the Mario Wiki for some wiki-diving at times, and I’m still flabbergasted at the number of Piranha Plant types. To say nothing of the dozens of different Goombas, the dozens of Koopa Troopas… most Hammer Bro variations are just given a different weapon… Then again, when it comes to creating new enemies, we may also just end up with… those things. Which are literally just a rectangle that stretches its neck.

Oh, and this one also has two more
variants in Super Paper Mario.
Yes, really.

4. So many under-developed characters!
Whereas RPGs set a lot of focus on story, platformers put the gameplay forward and tend to keep the story basic. As such, characters confined to the platform games and, sometimes, the spin-offs won’t be seeing quite as much character development. Wario has WarioWare, Mario remain relatively simple… Luigi, Bowser and Peach have become quite complex over time. What about Waluigi? Daisy? We know a lot about Rosalina, but although she’s being featured in more and more games we’re still missing a lot of elements. I kind of dream of a Mario RPG in which all of those, and even more secondary characters, get a chance to show off new personality traits in a story that allows for such.

3. Dumb character rosters in spin-offs
Did we really need a golden Peach to drive a car?
I’ve got nothing against seeing the common Mario characters in spin-off rosters. The brothers, the princesses, the greedy mischievous cousins, the big turtle-dragon and his family. Of course. The various baddies of the franchise? Sure, why not. I will never understand how a Goomba may be wielding a bat, but hey, if they can make it work… I also don’t quite see why a Blooper would play a board game, but hey, whatever floats their boat. There’s three dozen enemies and Koopalings they can stick in there, along with the others, so I suppose it’s not that bad, but even then, it just feels like a lot of armless/legless baddies could just cheat at many sports. Then we get to the Mario Babies. They’re frequently the Pichu of the spin-offs. And there’s more and more of them! Not to mention all the paradoxes of having Baby Rosalina around! And frequently, the babies don’t bring much to the table. Oh, and after those... Metal Mario? Pink Gold Peach? Come on now. Go home roster makers, you’re trying too hard.


2. The princess still. Gets. Kidnapped.
Surely an alarm system can’t be that expensive in the Mushroom Kingdom! Being the first platform game to employ it, Super Mario Bros. detains the grandfather clause of the princess getting taken away by the villain in video games. Thirty-three years later, it still uses the trope regularly. To the point of parody. To the point where most people are kind of sick of it, in fact. Hell, I’m sick of it. Admittedly, in recent years Princess Peach has become a playable character in quite a few titles, and Nintendo has tried to put new spins on the concept – in Super Mario Odyssey, as an example. However, still far too often it boils down to the same princess getting kidnapped by the same villain, or that villain possessed by some entity. Would it hurt to not have a story that ultimately results into a kidnapping for once? The Mario franchise innovates at every chance it gets when it comes to gameplay. It’s time to innovate more when it comes to stories.

1. Still no Waluigi game?
That’s just unforgivable. Waluigi has existed for now 18 years within the Mario canon, and only in spin-off series no less. Sure, he has all the best themed stages as well as the best victory poses…


If Deadpool can have two good movies,
Waluigi can have at least one good game.
But despite all that, this fan favorite has never had a chance to star in a game of his own or, Hell, in any game that isn’t a spin-off. Confined forever to parties, karting, baseball, what have you. But platform games? The best we got is the Waluigi clothing Mario can wear in Odyssey, that’s about it. RPGs? Nope! In fact, even Wario is nowhere to be seen in them! In fact, I would love a Mario & Luigi game that also features the Wario brothers! Sounds like the sort of crazy concept that sub-series normally loves to pull off. A Waluigi solo game? Luigi has had his own. And there are many fan games featuring the dude in purple. It’s possible! They should get to it. ASAP.

And so… well, this concludes another list. Soon will be the time for another movie review, and then… something big.

But you need to be warned, I'll be taking a short hiatus in order to get this done.

May 18, 2018

Steam Pack 11

What? Yet another Steam Pack so soon after the last?

Well... yeah. Over the last few weeks, I played a ton of short games, and still wanted to acknowledge them somewhere. I was debating whether to keep this Pack for the next round of reviews, or publish it right now, and eventually decided to release it now.

I guess some articles have 4 games, others have 5 – it all depends on how many I can fit within 2000 words.

Everlasting Summer


So it seems I’m late to the party yet again. This game developed and released by Soviet Games is apparently quite famous! I have the Steam version, let’s keep it to that one, let’s not mention any other versions circulating. Yes, we have a product from Russia here, and it’s a romance visual novel with character designs taking a lot of cues from anime.

"So I slept for 5 months?
I'm cool with that. Screw the cold Russian winter."
This game, and the other visual novels I’ve observed in such a short timespan, are proud to feature branching stories with multiple outcomes – the famed multiple endings that allegedly make you want to play over and over again until you find them all. Every ending even has its own achievement on Steam! Visual novel isn’t my genre of predilection; although I do enjoy some, I am not big on those that focus on romance. Then again, much like a book in which you are the hero, some of the interest is in seeing the paths the story takes and how things develop.


Why do I feel like singing "In The Summertime" right now?

This girl saw the future, watched Sonic Boom, and
decided she wanted Sticks' haircut.
This is the story of Semyon, a pathetic 30yo shut-in who goes to work, does his stuff, then comes back home to spend his days on the Internet speaking to strangers. Add game reviews in there and that’s basically me. One winter evening, on his way home, he falls asleep on the bus and, when he opens the eyes, he finds himself about 12 years younger, and inexplicably transported into a land of “everlasting summer” (always catchy to describe the game with its own title somewhere in the synopsis). Finding a summer camp and its pensionaries, lots and lots of teenagers – thankfully not just girls – he has to settle down until he can find a way to return to his world. Or reality? Or time period? It’s so unclear!

There are interesting touches here and there, some which
will slip over the heads of fans in America who don't
know Russian culture.
As is usual from a visual novel, you make decisions that impact the course of the game, up until the end. See, some options will increase your standing with either dateable girl, and at the end of Day 6 the girl you’ve accumulated the most points with has a story arc starting on Day 7. It IS possible to have a good enough standing with none of the girls, which leads to a Semyon ending… there’s also two special, extra girls with paths you can follow when you’ve completed at least one other path, and when you’ve completed all other paths respectively. A finale, basically. And of course, each girl has her good ending and her bad ending. (There’s even a harem ending, but I dunno why, these in romance visual novels actually creep me out…) The path to get to the arc is… um… complex, to say the least.

Compiled by one extremely brave and persistent Steam user.

Brain asplode.

Thanks, seldom-appearing information window!
And since there are so many possible endings, surely things are bound to get weird… I sincerely don’t want to spoil any of them, so I guess I’ll just say the system is very clever, and the concept is creative. The characters are pretty fun, and as I said, the story takes a lot of unexpected turns, frequently for the weirder, as soon as you scratch past the cutesy romance visual novel of the surface. I doubt I would seek out the 14 endings… but I can see why some people dedicate themselves to reaching that goal. The game also offers quite an interesting foray into Russian culture, something seldom-seen in fiction media in general. That’s refreshing. Of course, the characters are developed quite well, since part of the idea of a romance visual novel is to come to know these dateable characters.

Good game, really.

Jigoku Kisetsukan: Sense of the Seasons


Now jumping into a whole other different genre: Bullet Hell vertical shoot’em ups! Ah yes, I remember that genre. One of the first games I ever reviewed for this blog was in that genre.

…Oh God, this one is insanely tough. I already said “Bullet Hell”, and that’s not an exaggeration.

This is only the beginning.
Developer and publisher Emad gives us a tale of… personified seasons? It seems so. There are six playable characters, and each one has their storyline. The very first one is Tenshi, and she is… spring maybe? Doesn’t matter much. Discussing the story here is difficult as there are 6 playable characters, each with their own storyline, unlocked as you progress through the game. Multiple playable characters in a shmup isn't exactly something new, but it's always fun to see how each character has different bullet patterns. As for the story, I just know it involves anime characters, at least one kemonomimi, some spirits of death, and… um… a self-insert? Maybe? Sort of?

Ah, that's more like it. And, for the record, that's on
the easiest difficulty.
The story is interesting, but let’s be honest: It’ll be the least of your worries. Learn to use each character’s shooting abilities, and learn the patterns of bullets to fend off the attackers! As you kill enemies and boss phases, your character collects colored ensigns that can increase that character’s number of lives, its firepower, or its number of bombs. Hoping to gather plenty of bombs to survive? Tough luck, you can only have 2 at most.

And the bullets JUST DON’T STOP. I mean, it’s hardly a surprise for the genre. You focus far less on killing the enemies and bosses than you focus on your own survival. My eyes were on my character and the bullets flying at it. Thankfully, every boss has phases and each phase has a timer – which skips to the next phase or ends the fight (on the last phase) if it hits 0. So technically, there IS a Pacifist option here – you can apparently beat the game without killing anything! Tough, but a nice change of pace.


I never got to the boss past this one.
Welp! Touhou isn’t for me, it seems! This game is an homage to the series, and yeah, it seems I lack the patience to carry through and try beating this game fully. Though I’ll admit, it’s not for a lack of trying. With 4 difficulties (Easy, Normal, Hard and Hell), six playable characters (and just as many storylines), if you’ve got the dedication, you can pull through. The sprite art is pretty good, the game is EXTREMELY challenging (I’ve yet to get past Level 5 in any Story – and again, I tried for hours!), and the music is classic retro chiptune, very pleasant.

By Golly, I may not have completed this one yet, but I can see myself trying again and again!

Mandagon


The ambiance here is nice. Quite a change of pace
from the storm of bullets I had just before.
It’s one of those games that I’m not sure I can properly explain, but that won’t stop me from trying. Mandagon is a short 2D nonlinear platformer developed and published by Blind Sky Studios. This game can be completed in half an hour if you hurry – but why would you? Breathe in the peaceful atmosphere. Observe the panorama covered in snow and the ancient architecture. Visit this small world, from the deepest caves to the floating platforms high in the sky.

This world takes inspiration from “Tibetan theology and philosophy” (or, at least, that’s what the Steam page says). More specifically, it’s said to take place in Bardo, the Tibetan word for limbo (and, thus, the most likely candidate of a name for the place). The world, however minimalist, is breathtaking. There’s not much to say about the character, and the gameplay is similarly minimalist: Go around the map, collect emblems in homes, find their shrines around the map, set them in place, open the doors of the temple…

…And reach enlightenment.

Enlightenment sure feels a lot like an empty temple.

I could walk through this all day!
Well, okay, for 30 minutes maybe.
Oh, and there are statues scattered around, sharing words of wisdom, so that’s some stuff to read too.

My only critique is that you can’t map the keys to your liking, so you can’t choose to use the arrows to move – only WASD, while jumping is done with the Spacebar and interacting with items is done with E. Checking the inventory is the Tab key, and you have to press Tab again to leave it – not Escape, as that opens the game menu. A bit of an issue there, but it’s still manageable.

Trick & Treat


I never said every single RPG Maker game would have its own full article – some are simple adventures that don’t need much description. Developed and published by Rabbiton, this is a short, no-combat game focusing more on exploration, discovery and puzzles.



"Including the non-Halloween candy?"
"ESPECIALLY all the non-Halloween candy!"
It’s Halloween, so Charlotte and her maid Amelia decide to go trick-or-treating. However, instead of going to the town, they stop by a castle that mysteriously appeared many decades ago, and decide to go in to take whatever candy they may have. Not the most virtuous of goals, but whatever. As it turns out, the place is chock-full of dangers and, after Charlotte has run off, the easily-lost Amelia has to find her way around. That means solving puzzles, completing fetch quests, and so on. Each room has a ton of secrets.

There is definitely something off about this giant mansion that looks like a castle, the ghastly guests, the living dolls and the bizarre ways to die… wait, what? However, the greatest question remains: Can Amelia collect all the candy for herself and Charlotte?

Do I choose to be a jerk, or a decent person?

Dammit, more blood splatters to clean up. How inconvenient.
It’s not a very difficult game, mind you: Save points are frequent, and while there are ways to die they’re hardly anything more than a slap on the wrist since you can resume from the nearest save point. It can also be completed in about 90 minutes, if you run around it – but why would you? Much of the interest is in interacting with every single item and see what they do. The shelves are filled with books that hint at later puzzles (such as Egyptian mythology or Alice in Wonderland), rooms change sometimes based on progression, and there are various secrets to be found. Seemingly-random walls may contain eyes just for kicks.

How could a pumpkin kill anyone? That's silly.
The sjkeleton is already dead, though... so, clown?
The game isn’t all that scary, but it’s certainly a lot of fun. Gathering candy, completing puzzles and exploring the house is quite enjoyable. The puzzles aren’t too tricky, the twists and turns of the story are fine. You can even seek out the various ways to die, if you want! The game looks nice and uses a lot of custom RPG Maker resources, and the music’s decent. Good luck getting all the achievements, however – there lies most of the difficulty.

No, really, I recommend this one. It’s free, it’s good, it’s sufficiently unique in comparison to the usual RPG Maker titles, and it’s worth a try. Especially in October. But hey, a good Halloween game is good all year.

Surrounded by my fellows...
Even if I am just wearing a costume...
And so, there we are. Yet another Steam Pack done. I said it before, I’ll say it again: There is worth in free games. They may feel cheap at first, but that’s how it is if you judge them based on the price alone. Of course we’re more inclined to go towards the big games, those with a price, because surely they’re better if their creator makes people pay for them… Yeah, load of good that did Hunt Down The Freeman, did it? At least, if you download a free game and you don’t like it or it’s crap, you haven’t wasted any money. Yes, you can get a refund if you play less than two hours, but still. I prefer not to take that risk.

Hopefully I’m done with Steam Packs for a while now.

May 11, 2018

Evoland


What’s better than a video game that makes nods to the video game industry’s History? Well okay, probably a lot of things according to some, but that’s beside the point. Thing is, how do you integrate that into the game? Well, at least one title out there has found a novel and interesting way to do so.


Evoland, developed and published by Shiro Games in 2013, is the story of ????? (His official name is Clink, but you can give him a name of your own later), in a world that is mostly a parody/hybrid of Zelda and Final Fantasy. But it’ll be a while before you can do anything related to that. As the game starts, your character can only move to the right. Then he gets to a treasure chest that says he can now move to the left! And now a treasure chest on the left allows him to move up and down! And then you find another chest that scrolls the screen, allowing you to explore the world! OH MY GOD, FREEDOM!

I CAN MOVE
THIS IS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE
I HAVE SPENT YEARS ONLY CAPABLE
OF GOING TO THE RIGHT

"Double Twin"? That sounds like a fun game, boy!
Indeed, everything that is a major feature of a video game has to be earned by finding a treasure chest around the world presented here. And, of course, most of those chests are inevitable. That’s really for the better, as they also change the graphics. From an original Game Boy style to Game Boy Color, then NES, then Super NES. On the way, you also open treasure chests that make enemies pop up on the field, as well as a means of attacking with a sword. Ah, now this is Legend of Zelda! Also, the sword can cut bushes, so that’s an incentive to revisit the previous areas in order to find secrets.

We have moved up in graphical quality!
Soon: The NES step!

May 4, 2018

Steam Pack 10


What? A Steam Pack so soon after the last? Well, why not? Once again, I felt like focusing on games that were free, because I have a lot of those and not always a lot of interest in playing them. The big releases tend to be bigger draws, games with more content – and, of course, more people playing them. So one’s attention may go to those. But free games can be great entertainment too. Some games are short, others are demos for longer games being released later… Others are free games that have seen a sequel or remake with an actual price to it, making the original like a free experience to both demo the game and serve as the first chapter. Others have evolved past their free version, or offer interesting DLC! This time, I'm looking at 4 games rather than 5, because I found I had a lot to say about each game.

Dev Guy


Off to steal games, yes siree!
In this game, you’re a… dev guy, creating his own game for release online. He dreams big, but he needs to add the last few touches tonight. He goes to get his flash drive in his car, only to see it towed away. He calls the towing company, which brings his car back, and he gets his flash drive, only to see it formatted. Panicking, he decides to steal the games off the other five indie game developers in his building to make his title. And of course, he has to play these games to “judge” them.
Wait till he figures out he just played a reskin of another
game he knows.

I’m a bit conflicted about this game, developed by Daniel Jonathan Bourke, and published by Project tranquil. For starters, the main character is pretty unlikable, having strong negative opinions on the devs he works with as well as their projects. Kind of a dick, really. Also, the comedy is rather immature in tone, with some jokes that aren’t too great, as well as all-too-obvious digs at certain fandoms (especially My Little Pony) or common developer attitudes. The 6 mini-games in the second half are pretty basic, though they also mock different ways of making games. One game is beaten quickly because there’s no puzzle to it and it pretends to be social commentary, another is little more than a reskin of another game (if the main character is to be believed, anyway). Some stuff is good in there.

Looks like Microsoft Paint to me.
Not just because that's how I save my screenshots.