Thursday, February 28, 2013

App Review: Toy Story Smash It!

One of the most successful iOS games of all time is Angry Birds.  Everyone has played it and knows the formula.  You catapult little birds at precarious towers of blocks.  The more destruction you cause the more points you get but, ultimately, the real goal is to knock all of the evil pigs to the ground in order to defeat them.  Along the way you encounter various new power ups and level gimmicks but he basics stay the same.

It's a simple premise that works well...and it has also been done before in a number of other games.  One noteworthy example is the Boom Blox series released several years ago for the Nintendo Wii.  Boom Blox plays much like Angry Birds, but in three dimensions.  Somewhat like playing a reverse game of Jenga, the whole point of Boom Blox was to lob various projectiles at carefully constructed towers to send them toppling to the ground.  A key strategy to make use of was the fact that hitting blocks from certain angles could cause them to careen into other blocks, creating a chain reaction of destruction and bringing the whole structure down in one shot.  It was crazy fun.

"But, wait," you say! "Why are you talking about Boom Blox?  I thought this was a review for Toy Story: Smash It!  What is wrong with you, Frisch?"

Well you see, dear reader, Toy Story: Smash It! clearly represents Disney's attempt to grab a slice of the Angry Birds pie.  But in trying to put their own spin on the Angry Birds formula they ended up creating a game that should remind you more than a little of Boom Blox.  But that is hardly a bad thing!

The Birds formula is in full force here:  Little green aliens are placed about on precariously perched piles of blocks and it's Buzz Lightyear's job to chuck projectiles at the towers to bring all the little aliens tumbling down.  Simply taking out all of the aliens is enough to clear the level, but if you want to achieve a coveted three-star rank you have to do it in as few shots as possible, often only one, while also snagging the golden point blocks that are scattered about the stages.  In addition to your basic Pixar star balls, you also have other projectiles such as inflatable balloons or propeller-powered shots that can zoom forward in a straight line and plow through whatever is in their path.  This should all sound relatively familiar to veterans of Angry Birds.

Where the Boom Blox comparison comes in is that, like Boom Blox, Toy Story Smash It! is played in 3D, which gives an entirely different feel to the Angry Birds style of gameplay.  You can position Buzz anywhere you like within a semi-circular area in front of the puzzle, allowing you to get all sorts of different angles on the task at hand.  Some require you to simply use brute force to send the blocks toppling, but most require clever timing to get the top score.

Nearly every puzzle can be completely beaten with one shot if you find just the right place to throw it and at just the right time.  A lot of the solutions are pretty obvious, but even if you know what to do, it may still take a few tries to get the timing just right.  When you do nail it, however, watching the entire puzzle come crashing down and the point counter soar is extremely satisfying.  The touch controls are a breeze to use.  Simply slide your finger on screen to create a targeting reticule, position it where you want it, and then release to launch.  It's as easy as that.  The physics engine works beautifully and the blocks behave just how you would expect them to.

Toy Story: Smash It! also delivers on the audio and visual side as well.  Graphically, it's one of the finest looking iOS games I've played.  The characters are all smooth and detailed and look just like their movie counterparts.  The whole game takes place in Andy's room but cardboard scenery is used to give each level it's own distinct feel.  As the various sets of levels each have their own loose storyline attached to them, the scenery varies quite a bit from level to level.  The sounds and music are excellent as well.  Familiar Toy Story music plays in the background, and the characters all have a variety of voice clips.  I personally found it particularly amusing that the aliens will sometimes compliment you on defeating them.  Overall, the graphics and audio really make this game feel just like a Toy Story game should.

In the end, my only real complaint is that the game is rather brief.  Though the difficulty of the puzzles does ramp up eventually, you'll breeze through the first half of the levels in no time.  With only 60 puzzles to play, you'll be able to see most if not all that Toy Story: Smash It! has to offer in a single play session.  For the completionists out there, achievements add some extra incentives to shoot for besides high scores.  Fortunately, a tantalizing "Coming Soon" option on the level select screen promises that more puzzles are on the way.

Toy Story: Smash It! is one of the most polished and enjoyable iOS games I have ever played.  It's not too terribly challenging and it's a bit on the brief side, but you're sure to enjoy every minute of it while it lasts.  For only a dollar, and with the promise of new levels in the future, it's easy to recommend!  Fans of Angry Birds, Toy Story, and Boom Blox alike will all find plenty to enjoy!

Where to Buy:

Toy Review: Disney Parks Character Figurines

Have you ever wished you could visit Mickey Mouse and his friends all the time from the comfort of your own home without having to visit a Disney park?

Oh, wait, you haven't?  Um.  Well, have you ever wished you could have perfect little figurines of Mickey Mouse and his friends that look just like how they appear in the theme parks?  Then you are in luck, my friend!  Feast your eyes on the new Disney Parks character figurine set:
The Fab Five are represented in all their glory in this great new line of figurines straight from the Disney Parks.  They're all around the 5" range, though Pluto is considerably shorter since he's down on all fours and Goofy is much taller than the rest.  Each one comes on its own removable stand with pegs that snap into their feet.  They also have a cardboard backdrop of sorts that showcases the character's "autograph" with Cinderella Castle on one side and Sleepy Beauty Castle on the reverse side.  The figures are made of a rubbery plastic, but the insane level of detail and overall high quality of the sculpts and paint application ensures that they feel like a notch above basic toys and more like collectable display pieces.  Let's take a look at each one individually, starting with the main mouse himself...

Mickey Mouse:

Mickey looks wonderful and he's definitely my favorite of the five.  The level of detail is outstanding here.  Every little part of his tuxedo is perfectly detailed and his pose conveys lots of personality.  There's a much greater level of subtle detailing here than you might notice at first, such as the fact that Mickey has a slight outline painted around his eyes and a his cheeks are a bit rosy colored.  He really is identical to Mickey as he appears in the parks.  A couple of compromises had to be made for the details on some of these figures, but Mickey is perfect in every way.  If you get only one figure out of this set, make it this one!

Minnie Mouse:

Minnie looks pretty great too, as expected.  She's nicely posed and she looks just as good as Mickey when it comes to the more subtle details, such as her makeup.  That said, her precarious pose means that she can't stand up on her own.  She either must be on her stand or leaning against something.  For that reason, she's probably my least favorite of the bunch.  But as far as the likeness goes, she's still excellent.


At first glance, Pluto seems a bit less impressive than the other characters because he is so much shorter and less detailed.  But, in reality, he's just as well made as the rest of the set.  There are tons of great little wrinkles and folds molded into his design, which really helps give him a high level of realism.  Of course, the same is true of all the figures, but it's especially prominent with Pluto.  He really looks like a miniature version of the real deal!


Goofy is probably the most immediately impressive figure of the bunch simply because of how much larger he is than the others.  That said, of the five I'd say Goofy probably looks the least like the actual mascot character.  His eyes look to be a bit smaller and narrower compared to the real deal.  But, really, that's an extremely minor nitpick.  He's still pretty much perfect.  You're only going to notice if you're directly comparing him to a photograph and I only bring it up because the others are all so dead-on accurate.  Goofy is still very charming and lovable regardless!  Off the stand Goofy tends to tip over pretty easily, but he does stand on his own.

Donald Duck:

Donald is just overflowing with personality.  His pose is wonderful.  He's also nicely textured, giving his body a somewhat fuzzy and feathery appearance.  The slight outline painted around the eyes is especially prominent on Donald.  Somewhat like Pluto, Donald has fewer details to capture, but he still looks wonderful.  Next to Mickey, Donald is probably my favorite figure in this line...even if it does kind of look like he's talking on a cell phone!

Overall, Disney has completely knocked it out of the park with this line of figures.  They are perfect recreations of their theme park counterparts.  If you want to have a reminder of Walt Disney World or Disneyland on your desk or just a representation of your favorite character, you really can't go wrong with any of these figures.  Of course, they aren't really action figures and have no points of articulation.  However, their poses do a wonderful job of conveying each character's personality and the level of detail on each is amazing.  They make wonderful display pieces.  Out of all the toys and collectibles I own, these guys are undoubtedly my favorites!  At a fairly reasonable $12.95 each, I give the Fab Five my highest recommendation!

(And, for what it's worth, even though Disney Store sells both a "Walt Disney World" and "Disneyland" version of each figure on the website, they are completely identical.  The only difference is which side of the card is facing forward within the packaging.  Even the packaging itself is the same otherwise.  If one version is out of stock, just look for the other one.  You can easily flip the card over if you prefer the other castle.)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Top 5 Disney Horses

Disney movies feature a lot of horses.  Has anyone else ever noticed that?  The world of Disney is full of horses.  They're everywhere!  Horses are required so the prince can ride off into the sunset, of course.  And they pull carriages for princesses.  And, sometimes, they simply serve to make their rider look more intimidating.  (Just take a look at Gaston's horse and his demonic red nostrils of doom, for example...)

Indeed, the Disney animated canon is positively awash with equines.  Some even go beyond the role of loyal steed and become full fledged heroes in their own right!  So, today I'm counting down my Top 5 favorite Disney horses.  And, let me tell you, do a little research and you'll find I'm only scratching the surface when it comes to all of the horses that have shown up in Disney films.  These are simply the ones I've found the most memorable and endearing:

5.  Pegasus (Hercules)

Pegasus is a magnificent horse...with the brain of a bird.  He may not be the smartest or cleverest horse of the bunch, but he's loyal, funny, and ready to leap into action whenever Hercules needs his help.  Oh, and he flies.  That's pretty cool, too.  Plus...just look at those crazy teeth!  They practically glow in the dark!  Pegasus's teeth cement his spot on this list.

4.  Phillipe (Beauty and the Beast)

You can't help but feel sorry for poor Phillipe.  First Maurice almost runs him off a cliff, gets him chased by bats, and then attacked by wolves.  But Phillipe doesn't give up.  No sir.  He sets off to fetch Belle so she can rescue her captured father.  But then how is he rewarded?  He gets stuck standing around outside the castle for months on end, only to end up being attacked by wolves again.  And then, even after all that, Phillipe still sticks around so he's right there later when Belle sets out to save her father.  Again.  That's a trusty steed if ever there was one!

And, yes, I know the special edition showed that Phillipe was well taken care of in the castle stables so he wasn't just standing out in the snow the whole time.  But even so, Phillipe is still one tough horse.  He just can't catch a break in this film!

3. Khan (Mulan)

In many ways, Khan is a lot like Phillipe.  He's right there, ready to help Mulan all the way through her adventures.  Even though he didn't always appear to be especially confident that Mulan could succeed in her charade, he was always ready to offer an assist when called upon.  Khan's so dependable he even comes to Mulan's aid in the middle of an avalanche, for crying out loud!  And, after Mulan saves the day, Khan gives her a triumphant exit from the palace by majestically leaping down several flights of stairs on the way out.  Khan may not have been at the forefront of the action most of the time, but he was always there when the situation called for him.

Heck, whereas Phillipe only almost went over the side of a cliff, Khan actually did go over the side of a cliff!  When it comes to action, Mulan's horse is sheer Khan!  *rimshot*

2.  Bullseye (Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3)

Okay, I know, technically Bullseye is a Pixar horse, not a Disney horse.  And, normally, I'd be the first to call attention to that distinction whenever Pixar characters show up on Disney lists.

But, seriously, Bullseye rocks.  He's cute, innocent, and loyal to a fault.  You simply cannot not love Bullseye.  I know most people cried watching Toy Story 3 because of how emotional the ending was.  Andy giving away all his toys and all that.  And, sure, that was touching and melancholy.  But you want to know the reason I cried watching Toy Story 3?  Bullseye.  There is nothing more heart-wrenching than watching such an innocent character struggling for his life in the incinerator.  Man, that was hard to watch...

Plus, think about this:  Bullseye is the fastest horse ever.  Period.  No horse is faster than Bullseye.  If a real horse is really booking it, it can get up to around, what, 40 miles an hour or so?  That's nothing for Bullseye.  At the end of Toy Story 2, Bullseye is able to keep up with an airplane that is about to take off!  That means he's easily clocking in at about 170 miles per hour.  That's approximately equivalent to a full sized horse running at about 850 miles per hour.  Bullseye is the Superman of horses.  No wonder Woody trusted him to jump over the Grand Canyon in the final episode of Woody's Roundup.  Bullseye could probably do it in his sleep.  Ride like the wind, Bullseye?  Ha!  The wind wishes it could ride like Bullseye!

1. Maximus (Tangled) 

Bullseye may be faster than a speeding bullet, but can he defeat a notorious thief in a swashbuckling sword/frying pan duel atop a cliff?  I don't think so!

Maximus is so psychotically devoted to his duty that you can't help but root for him.  Sure, he may not always be the most forward thinking horse.  (Kicking out the support beam of the dam comes to mind...)  But you have to admire his dedication and tenacity.  He's more than willing to risk life and limb to bring Flynn Rider to justice.  Plus, did I mention that he's hilarious?  Never before has a Disney horse displayed so much personality as Maximus.  He steals the show every time he's on screen.  Which, given his strict moral code, is probably not something he would be proud of.

Plus, Maximus is totally the hero of the movie.  Sure, Flynn helped out some in the end, but it was Maximus who discovered that Flynn and Rapunzel were even in danger at all.  It was also Maximus who rallied the thugs to rescue Flynn from the gallows.  And, of course, did Flynn run all the way to the tower to rescue Rapunzel himself?  No.  It was Maximus who made sure Flynn got to the tower in time to save the day.  Without Maximus, Tangled would have had a much more depressing ending.

The herd of Disney horses is vast but, in the end, Maximus comes out on top!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Review: "New Super Mario Bros. U"

Welcome to New Super Mario Bros U!  The game where the coins still don't matter but surprisingly little is recycled...

As I'm sure you may have gathered by now, I'm not a huge fan of Nintendo's New Super Mario Bros. series.  As I outlined in my review of the previous game, I find that the series tends to do shockingly little to deserve the "New" moniker attached to it's title.  So, needless to say, when I discovered that Nintendo was choosing to launch its shiny new Wii U console with not only another New Super Mario game, but also the second one within only a few months, I was less than excited.  I figured it would be yet another romp through the safe and sterile world seen in the previous three games.

I was wrong.

New Super Mario Bros. U is leaps and bounds ahead of it's predecessors in virtually every way.  Developed by the same team that created the Wii iteration of the series, New Super Mario Bros. U brings far more "new" to the table than any other installment in the series thus far.  Whereas NSMB2 remained so painfully faithful to previous games that it offered virtually nothing in the way of new ideas, NSMBU dishes out fresh content on a regular basis.  It took six years and three attempts on as many consoles, but Nintendo has finally crafted an experience that feels like a legitimate sequel to the original 2006 DS game.

In terms of basic design and structure, New Super Mario Bros. U still closely resembles New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  In terms of gameplay itself, its effectively identical.  Mario controls exactly the same as he did in NSMBWii and a great many of the features introduced in Wii that were absent on the 3DS make their grand return here.  Four player co-op with some new tricks for a fifth player on the Game Pad, Yoshi, quick saves, the Ice Flower, the spin jump, and more are all back in full force after disappearing for NSMB2.

Yoshi, in particular, is great to see again as he tends to make Mario games more fun wherever he shows up, even though his role in this game is seemingly even more limited than it was in NSMBWii.  The new Baby Yoshis that Mario can carry around offer updated versions of the propeller and light blocks ideas first seen in NSMBWii.  Similarly, the new Flying Squirrel suit plays very much like a combination of the Propeller Suit and the Raccoon Suit from previous games.  (It's also a little disturbing, in my opinion, thanks to its half-clothing-half-squirrel-skin appearance...)

But while previous New Super games have been content to simply offer up more of the same, New Super Mario Bros. U takes the foundation set by the previous games and builds on it considerably.  Most of the old Mario 3 gimmicks pop up again, as expected, but they are often used in ways that haven't been done before, or combined with other new gimmicks to create fresh types of experiences.  NSMBU still doesn't stray too far from traditional Mario territory, but instead of doing more of the same types of the gameplay, it does more with those same types of gameplay.

Additionally, NSMBU has quite a few new tricks up its sleeves.  Some of the new ideas are pretty subtle, but some are quite significant.  I lost quite a few lives playing through this game, though not because it is especially difficult.  Rather, it was because it caught me off guard.  New Super Mario Bros. 2 was almost boringly easy because if you were familiar with previous Mario games, you knew exactly what to expect in every level.  The game could never surprise you, so most of the traps and enemies posed no threat.  New Super Mario Bros. U, on the other hand, turns these expectations against you.  Familiar elements suddenly do something new or unexpected.  The vast majority of the levels had at least one moment where I would see what was happening on screen and think to myself, "Whoa.  I've never seen that before!"  NSMBU offers up lots of little surprises that I don't dare spoil here.

The game even plays with the standard Mario design in some basic but noteworthy ways.  For example, pipes often jut out of the ground at all kinds of different angles this time around.  Mario levels have traditionally been very straight forward, to the point that slopes of any kind have actually been pretty uncommon in most levels up to this point.  Pipes especially have always been precisely vertical or horizontal with few exceptions.  But in this game, they're angled all sorts of different ways, which allows pipe-dwelling Piranha Plants to pop out in spots you might not be expecting.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii introduced the idea of shifting and spinning set-pieces.  New Super Mario Bros. U takes that idea and goes crazy with it.  Levels are now much more dynamic in nature, with large sections of the level sliding back and forth, spinning around, bobbing up and down, and more.  The end results are levels that feel much more lively and distinct, as opposed the stale and static levels seen in past New Super games.  Even when playing relatively basic levels, it's touches like these that manage to make the Mario formula feel fresh again.

New Super Mario Bros. U also holds the distinction of being the first high definition Mario game.  I fully admit that if you expect to be blown away by the visuals, you will be disappointed.  There's not much on show here that couldn't have been on the Wii.  Donkey Kong Country Returns was just as visually impressive several years ago.  That said, NSMBU is still a much nicer looking game than New Super Mario Bros. Wii, don't get me wrong, but that's primarily because NSMBWii only looked marginally better than the DS original.

Indeed, it's not the technical side of the visuals that makes NSMBU stand out but rather the artistic side.  At last the boring repetitive level themes of the first three games are gone and in their place are worlds with far more personality.  The colors are much bolder and the scenery is significantly more inventive and unique.  For example, the desert worlds no longer feature generic cacti and pyramids.  In their place are giant melting ice cream cones and Easter island heads!  NSMBU still follows the same progression of world themes as the previous games. (Grassland, desert, beach, poison forest, and so on.)  However, by giving all of these worlds a brand new look, they finally feel somewhat fresh again.  The worlds are also connected together by a single sprawling world map this time, instead of the individual map screens of the previous games.

The game even explains this change of scenery with a slightly more evident story.  This time the adventure is taking place to the left of Peach's castle instead of the right.  Instead of starting out at the castle like the previous three games, you're trying to make you're way back there.  Oh sure, it's still your basic Bowser-kidnaps-Peach story, but thanks to some sporadic cutscenes sprinkled throughout the game, NSMBU is given a bit more of a coherent and humorous narrative.  It's not Paper Mario, but it still goes a long way toward giving NSMBU its own identity.

But for all of its efforts to feel distinct from its precursors, NSMBU does have one huge glaring shortcoming that I find inexcusable.  Just like NSMB2, almost the entire soundtrack is recycled directly out of New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  Nintendo did at least listen to complaints that the main theme was getting old, because a new main theme is present this time around and it's quite nice.  But evidently that was all the effort they wanted to put into the soundtrack because once you play the first level, you've pretty much heard all the new level music you're going to hear in this game.  It was absurd that they recycled the soundtrack once.  It's beyond absurd that they would do it again.  That means that of the four games in the New Super series, three of them have nearly exactly the same soundtrack.  Given the amount of effort that was clearly put in to give NSMBU its own style and feel, I find it ridiculous that Nintendo wouldn't also take the time to have new music written to match, or at least do new arrangements of the old music.  It feels incredibly cheap and lazy.

However, aside from the music, there really isn't that much to complain about with New Super Mario Bros. U.  It's far from revolutionary, but it's not the stale retread that New Super Mario Bros. 2 was either.  Lots of new level features and gimmicks ensure that the main mode feels fresh and distinct from its predecessors and a sprinkling of new modes means there are plenty of reasons to keep playing after the adventure is done.  New Super Mario Bros. U truly does feel like it deserves to have the word "New" in its title and, at last, feels like a real sequel to the original DS game.  It's a great way to break in the Wii U and easily the finest traditional 2D Mario game since Super Mario World.

Now then, Nintendo, how about finally writing some new music for the next one, eh?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Frisch's Top 5 "Other" Mario Games

Yesterday I listed my top 5 favorite Mario games in the main series.  But that hardly scratches the surface when it comes to all of the games the portly plumber has starred in, so today I'm listing my Top 5 "Other" Mario games.  This list covers all of the spin-off games Mario has shown up in.  It's also a bit of a hybrid list, as I'm limiting myself to only one game from any given spin-off series.  So if, for example, you see a Mario Kart game on this list, that means it's also my favorite Mario Kart game overall in addition to being one of my favorite spin-off games.  Confusing enough for you?  Good.  Let's-a go:

5. Mario Party DS

The Mario Party series has a long and storied history.  Since 1998 Nintendo has churned out no less than a dozen Mario Party games.  And, for the most part, they are largely the same basic experience.  Same sort of board game format.  Same sort of minigames.  Same sort of intolerable single player experience.  Mario Party DS has one key distinction from the others that sets it apart:  It's handheld.

Otherwise, Mario Party DS is pretty much par for the course as far as this series goes.  But given how infrequently I play multiplayer games, being able to take the game on the go with me is a huge benefit.  I'm much more likely to play through a quick round with CPU opponents or play a few minigames if I have a little time to kill.  And when you do play with multiple people, Mario Party DS is just as fun as any other game in the series.

Plus, who doesn't love coins?  Especially YOURS!

4. Mario Golf Toadstool Tour

Mario has proven to be quite the athlete over the years.  Tennis, Soccer, Baseball, Basketball, and more.  You name it, Mario's played it.  But by far the sport that's jived the best with the Mario series is golf.  For whatever reason, there is something extremely appealing about taking Mushroom Kingdom locations and seeing them re-imagined them into golf courses.  It sounds boring, but it's actually great fun.

Toadstool Tour for the GameCube is my favorite of the Golf sub-series.  At the time the graphics were unmatched, and they still look quite pretty today even if they aren't quite as technically impressive anymore.  The soundtrack is something else.  It has a ton more energy and drama than you would expect for game about golf, but it somehow fits the atmosphere perfectly.  And on top of everything else, all the little Mario touches throughout the game ensure that this is no regular game of golf.  Mario and golf may not seem like an obvious match but, as it turns out, they compliment each other perfectly.

3. Dr. Mario Online Rx/Express

Good grief?  Mario is a doctor, too?  Is there anything he can't do?  Dr. Mario started off on the NES and GameBoy as one of the many falling piece puzzle games to try and ride the wave of popularity started by Tetris.  What makes Dr. Mario unique is that it has a bit of a steep learning curve at first.  It's not quite as easy to pick up and play as other puzzlers such as Tetris or Bejeweled. That said, once you get used to playing Dr. Mario, it is incredibly fun.  Since you always have an end goal to work toward by trying to clear all the viruses on screen, there's a more obvious forward progression than other puzzle games.

Dr. Mario has pretty much always played the same over the years, so the presentation is the key factor in determining my favorite iteration.  Dr. Mario Online Rx for WiiWare and Dr. Mario Express on DSiWare share the same sounds, music, and visual style.  Which, in turn, are largely based on Dr. Mario 64.  But thanks to the clean colors and sleek design, Online Rx and Express manage to take on a charming and almost soothing quality that makes them even more fun to play than previous versions of Dr. Mario.  With this series, you really can't go wrong with any entry, but on the Wii and DS, Dr. Mario is really at his best.

2. Paper Mario:  The Thousand Year Door

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is pretty much perfect.  It looks great.  It plays great.  It has a great soundtrack.  Oh, and the humor.  Did I mention the humor?  This game is hilarious.  It's exploding with personality.  The gameplay, in all honesty, is very nearly identical to it's N64 predecessor.  But the characters are so much more interesting and lovable.  You'll get wrapped up in the story within minutes and it never disappoints all the way through.

The RPG mechanics are also great fun.  Action commands ensure that frequent battles never get stale.  The environments feature great atmosphere.  Really, I can't say enough good things about Thousand Year Door.  It's perfect.  Oh, and I also can't talk about this game without mentioning the Bowser stages.  They really are the best part of the game.  In fact, there should be a whole trilogy of games based on them, don't you think? ;)

1. Mario Kart 64

This one was obvious.  As soon as I sat down to type this list I knew exactly what the top choice would be.  Mario Kart 64 is still, in my mind, Mario Kart in it's purest form.  Super Mario Kart laid the foundation but Mario Kart 64 perfected it.  I greatly enjoy other Mario Kart games too, don't get me wrong.  Super Circuit is goofy fun.  Double Dash!! has some of the best tracks in the series.  DS sports the best controls.  Wii...was actually pretty awful but it had good music at least.  And Mario Kart 7 even features numerous callbacks to the N64 title, in the form of the music and even the classic pipe frame kart returning.

Mario Kart 64 still can't be topped, though.  Before every Mario Kart game started adding one-shot gimmicks there was Mario Kart 64.  While the thrill of playing Super Mario 64 wore off somewhat after so many years of playing it, the excitement of Mario Kart 64 has never worn off.  In single player or multiplayer, it's just as fun today as it was sixteen years ago!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Frisch's Top 5 Favorite "Main Series" Mario Games

Good afternoon, ladies and germs!  I make no secret about how much I enjoy the Mario series.  It is by far my favorite video game franchise of all time.  Mario has done it all, from platformers to racing to RPGs to everything in between.  Today I'm having a look at my top 5 favorite games from the main Mario series.  That pretty much means all the platformers that have names that start with "Super Mario."  These are the ones that sell consoles!  And here are my favorites:

5. Super Mario 3D Land

Mario's first foray on the 3DS essentially plays like a greatest hits album of Mario history.  It has the style and charm of the Galaxy games, the bright colors and level tropes from Mario 64, the structure of the New Super series, and a heaping helping of Mario 3 references.  Especially the Tanooki suit.  Raccoon tails for everyone!

3D Land is much like the New Super games in that most of its elements are drawn from previous Mario games.  Unlike the New Super series, however, 3D Land excels at taking these familiar ideas and presenting them in a new way.  The levels play more like quick obstacle courses than full blown worlds to explore, but they are still great fun to speed through.  It lack an identity of its own, but 3D Land is probably the best example of pure, straight forward Mario goodness.  Anyone who liked any other Mario game will find plenty to enjoy in this land.

4. Super Mario Bros.

The original that started it all!  Super Mario Bros. is a classic no matter how you look at it.  And while I certainly spend my fair share of time playing the NES version, the SNES All-Stars version is the one that cements this game's place on my list.  The underlying game is essentially unchanged, but the graphics and music have been given a Mario World styled makeover that really enhances the overall experience.

But in any form, Super Mario Bros. is still just as fun today as it ever was.  It wrote the book on Mario games and platformers in general.  Later Mario games have expanded and played with the formula, but the original still holds up as one of the finest examples of why Mario is the big name star he is today.

3. Super Mario World

Most people claim that Super Mario Bros. 3 is the best 2D Mario game out there.  But I'd argue that Super Mario World is the one to hold that distinction.  The levels are huge, the secrets are plentiful, and the music is some of the best in the entire series.  Super Mario World does everything that Mario 3 did, but it does it bigger and better and with much more charm and style.

In addition, World introduces two of my favorite elements in the series:  Yoshi and the Cape Feather.  Yoshi's awesomeness should be self evident.  He's so awesome he even stole Mario's spotlight for the sequel.  As for the Cape Feather, it's one of the best power ups in any Mario game.  It looks way cooler than the raccoon tail and it requires a bit more skill and cleverness to use than just mashing the jump button.  Now that Nintendo has done the tail thing to death in that last few games, I'm hoping that comeback for the Cape Feather is in the works!

2. Super Mario Galaxy

Mario's first full blown Wii adventure is also one of his best.  The original Galaxy is an absolute joy to play.  The levels are large and numerous, with lots of little nooks and crannies to explore.  The orchestral music is phenomenal and provides the game with an epic scope than not even the sequel could match.  Galaxy also boasts some of the finest visuals on the Wii.  Even over five years later, Super Mario Galaxy remains just as impressive and enjoyable as when it was first released.

Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel are often cited as the two best games in the entire Wii library, and that's definitely true.  The second game is often said to be the better of the two, but I'd argue that the original is the superior game.  Galaxy 2 did expand the amount of variety seen in the levels, but it stripped out most of the openness and atmosphere that the original Galaxy had, making it almost feel more like a prototype to 3D Land than a sequel to Galaxy.  It feels sterile compared to the original, which is why Super Mario Galaxy remains the better of the two.

1. Super Mario 64

The landmark N64 launch title has been my favorite Super Mario game for years, and though the original Galaxy gave it a run for its money, Super Mario 64 still comes out on top.  As I did not have an N64 as a kid, playing Super Mario 64 was always a rare treat.  Nothing could beat running around that castle, exploring for secrets, and enjoying the incredible music.  Super Mario 64 is the reason I'm such a big fan of the Mario series today.

These days I've played through Mario 64 numerous times and most of the nostalgic charm has worn off.  But it doesn't change the fact that the game is still just as fun to explore as ever before.  More than any other platformer I've played, Super Mario 64 rewards the player for just goofing off.  It presents big open playgrounds to explore and lets you loose to do whatever you please.  You never know what you might find in Super Mario 64, such as secret stars, warp points, and even a hidden aquarium area.  No other Mario game has presented a world that is so much fun to simply play around in and explore.  And that's why it's still my favorite!