My Gaming Update: October 2017

by Matthew Thompson

Hey everyone. Just here to run down some of the games I have been playing recently. Here are some impressions of four games I have finished these past couple months Continue reading


Kirby: Planet Robobot Impressions

by Matthew Thompson

Kirby games generally come in two flavors. You have the traditional adventures that take after the 1995 NES classic and the more experimental outings and spinoffs. In the latter, you may find yourself controlling Kirby via the touch screen, racing or even playing golf. I find these to be a bit hit or miss, but it is easy to see why some would strike a chord with the right player. I don’t think a typical Kirby game has wowed me since I first played that aforementioned NES title – which remains one of my all-time favorite 2D platformers – but they are dependable. They are always good, solid fun. And there is comfort to be found in that Continue reading

Gaming Mini-Reviews: Nintendo Platformer Edition

by Matthew Thompson

In an effort to get my thoughts on more games up on the site, I’m going to be trying out a new format. Inspired by my recent TV Pilot Mini-Reviews which I thought turned out well, I will write up some shorter game reviews and bundle a few together for one post. Looking back through what I played earlier this year there were quite a few games I didn’t get the chance to talk about. Three of these were Nintendo platformers which seemed to be a perfect group to test things out on. So here are my thoughts on platformers from three classic Nintendo series that came out over the last couple of years Continue reading

Yoshi’s New Island (3DS) Review

by Matthew Thompson

Young Mario and Luigi don’t seem to have the greatest of luck. It turns out after being rescued and delivered safely back home at the end of the original Yoshi’s Island, it is discovered that they were dropped off with the wrong parents. When the stork tries to right this wrong in swoops Kamek to steal away baby Luigi. It is once again up to a group of Yoshis to save the day. With baby Mario in tow, the Yoshi clan work to reclaim his brother from the clutches of the evil wizard. And that kicks off another adventure in the Yoshi’s Island series, this time on the Nintendo 3DS.

The gameplay is similar to its predecessors. It is a slow-paced, puzzle-y platformer which sets itself apart from other genre entries through its unique mechanics. Most notable of these is Yoshi’s egg-tossing ability which allows him to swallow enemies, turn them into eggs, and then launch them in various directions to solve puzzles, best enemies, uncover secrets, and collect various goodies strewn throughout each level. His flutter jump also helps to give the game a different feel than other 2D platformers. Yoshi’s New Island shines brightest when it leverages these abilities through clever level designs and its super-sized boss fights.

Yoshis New Island 2

This game does try to inject the series with some new ideas, but does so to mixed results. While the Mega Eggdozers, humongous eggs that Yoshi can create by eating equally huge enemies, aren’t exactly gamechangers, I enjoyed them. It can be fun to create a path of destruction with one and I liked how the metal variant was utilized for underwater puzzles. Yoshi can also transform into different vehicles like in the rest of the series. These are now controlled with the system’s gyroscope which makes for controls that range from fine (the mine cart) to terrible (the submarine). Overall I can’t help but look at these motion controls as being a net negative.

It takes a while for the game’s difficulty to ramp up, but there is a nice level of challenge in the final two worlds. In earlier areas, the difficulty comes from trying to get 100% completion. Admittedly this is no easy task, but I still prefer games that add challenge through more traditional jumping obstacles and hazards and then use 100%ing as an extra challenge on top of that. It does make for some quality exploration elements here, but I guess I just wish the overall difficulty would have ramped up a little sooner than it did.

Yoshis New Island 1

I was surprised how good the graphics looked when I finally sat down to play Yoshi’s New Island. Screenshots and videos don’t really do them justice. They have done a fine job of maintaining the original’s pastel-inspired art direction in the new 2.5D rendering style. But at the same time, it still can’t stack up with the original’s standout visuals. Music is okay, if not exactly as memorable as the first Yoshi’s Island.

And that is kind of par for the course for the entire game. It’s a fun little platformer, but it doesn’t quite compare to the SNES classic. The unique mechanics help deliver an experience that feels original next to much of its current-day platforming competition. And I still love the series’ approach to boss fights in this latest outing. So if you are looking for some more egg-tossing, dinosaur riding goodness, Yoshi’s New Island will deliver. Just don’t expect anything like the revelation that was the original Yoshi’s Island. This is merely a solid sequel in comparison.

The Good and Bad of A Link Between World’s Rental System

by Matthew Thompson

Last year’s new 3DS Zelda title, A Link Between Worlds, was the best entry in the series in years. It had all the hallmarks of a great Zelda game, but it was breaks from recent trends in the series that helped make it stand out to me. Nintendo got away from the handholding that has plagued Link’s latest adventures. This along with the ability to generally play the game’s dungeons in any order you chose meant I was finally given the freedom to explore Hyrule the way I (and many other fans) wanted to. This sense of freedom was no doubt facilitated by the game’s item rental system. But along with some of the positives of this new feature came some pitfalls. It is these drawbacks that make me think that the future of the series is better off ditching the renting of items. And it can do so without losing the positive qualities that it helped usher into, or perhaps bring back to, the franchise.

For those unaware, A Link Between Worlds eschewed its typical item discovery system where you’d find them in dungeons and use them throughout in favor of a new experimental formula. You were given access to a store early in your adventure where you could rent and eventually buy any item you wanted. This made it so you could choose which areas of the overworld and which dungeons to tackle first.  And with a little rupee saving you could easily have all the items early on giving yourself access to anywhere on the map long before you usually would. Admittedly this is a bit of an oversimplification on my part. Some items still had to be found via traditional methods. And some items were available to rent earlier than others, but it made for a game that allowed players to approach things on their own terms which was a big change from recent series’ conventions.

Ravio's item/weapon shop.

Ravio’s item/weapon shop.

It came with some drawbacks though. The joy of discovering items is lost a bit here as are the “Aha!” moments of getting a new item and realizing it will help you get past that one obstacle in the overworld you saw earlier. With a less linear approach came a more flat difficulty level across dungeons. Some items became less useful since you could acquire the superior item beforehand. It also took a step back in terms of varied item usage in dungeons. The rental system seemed to make Nintendo afraid to require any more than one item per dungeon (with the exception of the final one). It didn’t have to. They could have gated each with a couple items instead of one. But I am guessing since dying means you’d lose items, they didn’t want to make people have to buy multiple ones over again (even if this was something series’ vets never had to worry about). As a result the dungeons became more singularly focused on one item than even Twilight Princess which was much maligned for this very reason. For all the things Skyward Sword did wrong, it did a great job of mixing up the way you used items which made puzzles and dungeons less predictable. A Link Between Worlds was definitely a step in the wrong direction in this regard.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t change the way it worked in A Link Between Worlds. But I would ditch the rental system going forward. The good thing is we wouldn’t have to lose the freedom it allowed in the process. I think the first step is making items discoverable in the lead up to dungeons. Temples often have linear sections leading into them. You could put the item here. This would still allow for dungeons to be tackled in a non-linear order, but give back the sense of discovery that was lost in the last game.

The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds 2

Link’s ability to merge into walls made for such creative dungeon designs that the one-item aspect was less of an issue than it could have been.

That won’t solve the issue of difficulty and one-item dungeons though. So I’d make different tiers of dungeons. ALBW already did this sort of. The first three had to be tackled before you could get to Lorule’s collection of temples. I’d do something similar here. Make a group of three that can be tackled in any order. The items are discovered for keeps in their surroundings. Then these items can be used in the next tier of dungeons which will each have an item of their own discovered in a similar fashion. This could be another group of three or four tackled in any order. Followed by a final group where all the items from previous dungeons could be used. The tiers would also allow for the difficulty to be ratcheted up, while still giving some of the freedom A Link Between Worlds granted.

This is just one idea on how to handle things going forward. I’m not sure if it is the right way to do things, but I think it would sort of give players the best of both worlds, giving them the advantages that came with ALBW’s new system while cutting back on some of its drawbacks. We’ll have to see how they handle things when the inevitable Wii U Zelda title appears.

What were your thoughts on the rental system used in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds? Would you like to see it return? What tweaks would you make? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Mario Kart 7 Impressions

by Matthew Thompson

It took me a while to get around to Mario Kart 7. As much as I love the series, it is so much about local multiplayer with friends for me (something this version isn’t conducive to) that I just kept pushing it off. I have finally taken the opportunity to put the game through its paces and found it to be another solid if unspectacular entry in the series.

They have really nailed the controls for the first time on a handheld in my opinion. This was in large part due to what a huge improvement the 3DS circle pad is over the DS d-pad for steering. It also helps that Mario Kart 7 released in a post MKWii world where the boost mechanics have been changed for the better, no longer requiring the back and forth motion of the steering mechanic that was so annoying and allowed for the plague that was snaking.

Weapons don’t seem to affect the races in as big a way as recent entries which is another plus. It’s the expected mix of standard shells and banana peels to go along with more unique items like squid ink. Weapons can be held out behind you for defensive purposes and well if you’ve played Mario Kart you kind of know what to expect. While I would prefer they get rid of the dreaded Blue Shell altogether, I thought it made a little more sense here since it goes along the ground giving it a chance to hit other racers besides just the one in first place. Which means it might actually help the person who threw it instead of just those close on the leader’s heels. Also worth noting is that the Blue Shell only cost me one race in my time playing Mario Kart 7. It seems like a stupid thing to mention, but it might mean they have tuned the game to not give this item out late in races as often which is another step in the right direction (or maybe I just got lucky!).

Mario Kart 7 2

Mario Kart 7 adds a couple of truly new features to the series to mix things up a bit. The first is the ability to fly off certain jumps with the aid of a new hang glider. This is especially cool when it leads to alternate routes through different tracks and sneaky shortcuts which makes for some of the game’s better course designs. You can also go underwater during certain segments, but I’m kind of indifferent towards this aspect. But I suppose as another way to add more routes in some cases it doesn’t hurt.

The other big addition is the ability to customize your kart. It is not a particularly deep component. You can choose between various bodies, wheels and gliders which slightly tweak the different attributes of the vehicle. It is hard to complain about as it will let people get closer to their ideal racing attributes as well as giving something else to unlock as you play. It just isn’t really a game-changer in any way.

My biggest gripe with the game is the set of new original courses. Just like most Mario Kart games, MK7 has four cups of four new tracks each, but I feel like they just don’t stack up with most games in the series, particularly the recent editions (Double Dash, DS and Wii). My favorite tracks are probably a new version of Bowser’s Castle with all the fiery obstacles you’d expect from that classic area, Maka Wuhu which is the best execution of the new sprint type track that eschews the typical three lap setup in favor of just dividing one long loop into three segments, and Music Park which exhibits some of the creativity that exudes from the best Mario Kart tracks. But overall I found it lacking in the kind of standout tracks that I have come to expect from the series.

Mario Kart 7 3

They did do a fantastic job picking the 16 classic courses. The Wii and DS selections are particularly great including excellent levels like Maple Treeway, Koopa Cape, Airship Fortress and Waluigi Pinball. I also appreciated them finishing the final classic cup with a Rainbow Road variation. This challenging SNES track isn’t one of my favorite iterations of “The Road,” but it is nice to have another version of it in the game.

Battle mode is pretty standard stuff for Mario Kart vets. There is a good amount of options among the two modes, Balloon Hunt and Coin Runners. New tracks seem good enough, but the omission of Block Fort in the classic selections is disappointing. It really should be a requirement to include in every future Mario Kart game.

My internet has decided I will not be playing the game online and with no friends locally who own a 3DS, I didn’t get to test out the most important aspect of any Mario Kart: the multiplayer. So these became impressions instead of a full review.

My experience with the solo modes finds Mario Kart 7 to be a great controlling portable MK with a few new tweaks to keep things fresh, but one that let me down a bit in the new track department. And I think that puts it behind the three most recent entries to the series that came before this one. It’s definitely still an enjoyable game in its own right though.