Paper Mario RetroActive Review

Paper Mario pic1

Original Release Date: 2000

I’m not a huge fan of traditional turn based RPGs in general. While they often have interesting stories and characters, the moment to moment gameplay of random encounters and monotonous turn based battles makes it hard for me to keep going in most cases. There are only a few exceptions where I’ve been able to get into games that are built around turn based combat.

Which is why I was quite surprised at just how much I enjoyed Paper Mario. On the surface it looks like most other Mario games, with Princess Peach being kidnapped by Bowser, and Mario having to go and save her. However, the actual structure and gameplay are vastly different from the older Mario platformers, blending new and old ideas to create something that somehow manages to simultaneously be both familiar and utterly unique.

Paper Mario take place in a variation of the Super Mario universe where all of the characters and objects are 2D paper cutouts in 3D spaces. The game’s aesthetic is reminiscent of a children’s storybook, and is wonderfully detailed and charming. The aesthetic, along with the simple but appealing graphics make Paper Mario the first N64 game I’ve played so far that has truly aged almost perfectly when it comes to the visuals.

Unlike most Mario games, Paper Mario is an RPG. However, it blends several different genres, and as such the gameplay has a fair amount of variety. The basic abilities and moveset of Mario are most similar to his abilities from the old Mario platformers, and there is a bit of platforming sprinkled throughout the entire game. The structure of the game is most similar to the Zelda games, as you are presented with a vast overworld to explore, and you must complete each area to gain new abilities and unlock the means to proceed to the next area.

The combat used to fight and defeat enemies is the traditional turn based system used in most old school RPGs, but it has a few twists of its own. Instead of simply telling your characters to attack, you do have some input as to how effective the attack will be. For example, when Mario jumps on an enemy, if you press the A button right before he lands, it will increase the damage the enemy takes. This makes the turn based battles feel dynamic, and makes them more interesting than just mindlessly pressing the attack button until all the enemies are dead.

Another thing that I like about the combat and other RPG elements is that they don’t overload the player with too much information at once. One thing that greatly turns me off a lot of RPGs is that they tend to throw the player into the gameplay without properly explaining how anything works, with a sink or swim attitude that makes it harder to understand and get into the game. Paper Mario avoids this by breaking down the different aspects of the gameplay into small, manageable chunks, gradually introducing new mechanics as they become relevant. Paper Mario is not a particular hard game, but it’s understanding of a properly paced learning and difficulty curve is something I greatly appreciate about it.

When it comes to the story, on the surface it appears to be your standard Bowser kidnaps the Princess, Mario has to save her narrative. However, it makes the story more interesting by playfully making fun of the franchises tropes, often indulging in quirky and effective moments of humor. On top of which, the game features an excellent cast of characters, and the game’s unique take on recognizable faces from the Mario franchise makes exploring the world fun and exciting.

As someone who is not a huge fan of Mario games in general, Paper Mario greatly surprised me. It managed to take a long running and somewhat stale series and revitalize it with unique twists to the gameplay and narrative, offering something both invigorating and memorable. I’ve enjoyed it greatly, and it deserves to be right up there with all of the other N64 classics.

How well it holds up           4/4

Personal Enjoyment            5/5

Overall quality                     9/10

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Mario Party RetroActive Review

Mario Party pic1

Original Release Date: 1998

While I’ve heard of this franchise for years, I’ve never actually played a Mario Party game before. It’s not a series that’s generally ranked as the best of the best, but there is one thing that it seems to have down, and that’s being fun. And while the successive games may surpass the original (I’ll see when I get around to them), this is still a pretty good starting point for a series.

Mario Party is a party game structured like a board game. Up to four players choose a character, and make their way around the board. Each map has a specific and unique objective, and lots of mini games along the way. The main goal of each map is to try to collect as many stars and coins as possible, while doing your best to prevent the other players from doing so.

Mario Party captures a constant and endearing sense of fun that not a lot of games are able to. It’s clearly designed to be enjoyed with friends, but it’s still quite enjoyable even when playing against computer characters. Each map is unique, the constant twists and turns of each map keep things exciting, and most of the minigames are quite fun and engaging.

The only real issue I have with the game is how much it emphasizes luck. In this genre, usually the odds of winning are about 50% skill and 50% luck, giving skilled players an edge, but still allowing less skilled players a chance at winning. In Mario Party, however, the odds of winning are more along the lines of 25% skill and 75% luck. Most of the game, from how many moves you’re allowed to make each turn to which space you end on is determined purely by luck. The only aspect of the game that is truly skill is during the minigames, and even then many of the minigames are still quite reliant on luck.

This does suck some of the fun away from the experience, as whether you win or lose is determined less by how good you are, and more by how lucky you are. I understand that this type of game will always have a certain amount of chance to it, but leaving most of the game up to chance can make the game feel frustrating and arbitrary at times.

Despite this flaw, Mario Party is still a very fun and well designed game. It’s still worth playing even to this day, and it has peaked my interest in this series.

How well it holds up           3/4

Personal Enjoyment           4/5

Overall quality                      8/10

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Super Smash Bros RetroActive Review

Super Smash Bros pic1

Original Release Date: 1999

The Super Smash Bros series has left quite a mark on the industry. A combination between a solid fighting game and the ultimate crossover of Nintendo characters (as well as some non Nintendo characters), the SSB series has had 4 games released at the time of writing. Each has been a major success, but perhaps the most overlooked entry is the very first one in 1999. How well does it hold up when compared with more recent entries in the series?

On its own, Super Smash Bros is a decent enough game. Unfortunately, it’s undermined by the fact that every game in the series that has come out since has been much better. For example, in Melee the combat is refined, the graphics are a clear step up from the N64, and there is a lot more content. This also holds true for Brawl and SSB4.

Super Smash Bros is not a bad game, but it is undermined in hindsight by the fact that its successors are so much better in every way. The gameplay isn’t as polished, the graphics are dated, and there’s not very much to do in the game, especially if you’re playing by yourself.

I know this review is rather short, but there’s really not much to say about this game. For someone looking to get into the Super Smash Bros series, Melee is a pretty good place to start. The original will really only appeal to people interested in the history of the medium.

How well it holds up           3/4

Personal Enjoyment           3/5

Overall quality                      7/10

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Banjo Kazooie RetroActive Review

Banjo Kazooie Pic1

Original Release Date: 1998

After Super Mario 64 set the standard for 3D platformers, there were many other games that tried to emulate its success, while having their own spin on the genre. Some did this well, others not so much.

Released two years after Super Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie was a 3D platformer that took concepts started in Super Mario 64 and expanded upon them, creating something unique and memorable in its own right.

The gameplay is excellent. Like Mario in Mario 64, the two main characters, Banjo and Kazooie, have a very diverse move set that allows them many different ways of overcoming obstacles. The controls are smooth and intuitive, and the game is fair in its challenges, for the most part.

The visual design is fantastic. While it does show its age, it’s probably the best looking N64 game I’ve played so far. Each environment is distinct and memorable, and the soundtrack compliments the different levels perfectly.

The game is quite charming, and if you’re a major fan of 3D platformers, than I highly recommend it. However, if you’re like me, and are only a moderate fan of 3D platformers, there are a number of issues that are worth addressing.

One problem is that going back and forth through the overworld is a bit of a chore, as is finding where you need to go next. Most 3D platformers from this era have an overworld that’s fairly straightforward, while it’s in the actual levels where the player has to do the exploring or searching for items. In Banjo Kazooie, however, before you can access new levels, you have to figure out where they are, and some levels are easier to find than others. A little bit of exploration in the overworld is okay, but too much makes playing through the game feel disjointed. It also makes going back to previous areas more tedious than it should be.

Another annoyance is the camera controls. Of the N64 games I’ve played, the only ones with controls that have actually aged well are the N64 Zeldas. In every other 3D game, including Banjo Kazooie, the camera controls are always a bit awkward, and make certain sections a headache to get through.

The biggest problem with the game, however, is the fact that it deliberately wastes your time with the items you have to collect. When you collect one of the jigsaw pieces, you get to keep it. So even if you die or leave the level, that jigsaw piece is still yours. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works with all of the other items in the game. When it comes to the musical notes, for example, if you die or leave the level, you have to collect the musical notes all over again. Why they designed the game this way is something I simply can’t understand. If you have proven that you were able to get an item the first time you went through a level, you shouldn’t have to prove it again when you come back to collect more items.

This inherent flaw did dampen my goodwill toward the game a fair bit, but there were enough things about it that were done well that kept me going. Despite its problems, it is overall a well designed game, and a very fun one at that. Whether or not this game is for you will depend on how much you like 3D platformers. If you love them, check it out. If you don’t, this may not be for you.

How well it holds up           3/4

Personal Enjoyment          3/5

Overall quality                   8/10

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Star Fox 64 RetroActive Review

Star Fox 64 pic1

Original Release Date: 1997

The original Star Fox was a decent game for the SNES, but it’s largely been overshadowed by its sequel, Star Fox 64. Having played both games for the first time recently, it’s not hard to see why.

Star Fox 64 retains the gameplay and charm that made the first game so memorable, but takes it even further thanks to the additional power of the N64. In some respects, Star Fox 64 could be considered a remake of the first game, as it follows pretty much the exact same plot and structure as the first game. Where it shines, though, is in how it builds on what the first game established.

The characters are more fleshed out, and there’s greater importance placed on keeping your comrades out of harm’s way. Any characters who take too much damage won’t be present in the next mission, so keeping them safe is more crucial, especially in the more difficult levels of the game. The dialogue is memorable, if sometimes a bit silly, and gives you the sense that you’re flying with actual characters rather than just a set of bots.

The visuals have also been greatly improved over the incredibly basic ones in the first game, and while they do show their age, they’re still quite nice to look at. The music is also excellent, and compliments the gameplay perfectly.

The gameplay has been expanded upon, as the ship you fly now has much more capabilities and maneuvers, which adds new levels of depth and strategy to the game while still retaining the straightforward simplicity of the shooting of the first game. The level of difficulty is just right, naturally ramping up as the game goes on, and being challenging in a hard but fair manner.

There are some issues. The controls in the all range mode sections are a bit awkward, and these sections aren’t as well designed or fun to play as the corridor sections that make up the bulk of the game. This game is also very similar to the first game, so if you didn’t like the original, it’s unlikely the sequel will win you over, as it’s pretty much more of the same kind of thing, albeit expanded upon and done much better.

In the end, Star Fox 64 is a really solid title that has stood the test of time admirably well. It’s definitely not the best or most timeless game from the N64 era, but it’s still worth playing even to this day.

How well it holds up        3/4

Personal Enjoyment        4/5

Overall quality                  8/10

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Donkey Kong 64 RetroActive Review

Donkey Kong 64 pic1

Original Release Date: 1999

Donkey Kong Country was a very well put together game, and was one of the most successful titles for the SNES. During the mid to late 90s, however, the dominance of 2D was ending, as the medium transferred primarily to 3D. Many franchises that had started out in 2D made the leap to 3D, and some were more successful than others. How does Donkey Kong’s debut in 3D hold up?

The overall personality and charm of the Donkey Kong Country games remains intact, while adding new additions of its own. You assume control of Donkey Kong, and must rescue your fellow Kongs and make your way through the various levels to collect the different bananas and treasures that the villain has stolen.

While overall a pretty good game, it does feel rather unmemorable after titles such as Super Mario 64. The level design isn’t as straightforward as in other 3D platformers, which makes finding where you need to go next a bit of a chore. While switching between several different playable characters is an interesting idea, its execution is rather lackluster, and makes the game feel unfocused and tedious, as the player has to go over the same areas again to pick up character exclusive items.

Honestly, I can’t think of much to say about Donkey Kong 64. There’s nothing really that wrong with it, as the gameplay is pretty well put together, and the overall design is fine. But there’s nothing that really shines about it either. It’s just…okay. That’s all I can really say about it. It’s not as good as Donkey Kong Country or Super Mario 64, but it’s a decent game in its own right.

How well it holds up        3/4

Personal Enjoyment        3/5

Overall quality                 7/10

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Goldeneye 007 RetroActive Review

Goldeneye 007 Pic

Original Release Date: 1997

Thus far I’ve been very kind to the N64, but I have to admit that I wasn’t really looking forward to Goldeneye 007. While it’s regarded as a classic, and influential in bringing the FPS genre to consoles, it’s also frequently placed on lists of games that have not aged well. Does Goldeneye hold up to modern scrutiny, or is it an antiquated game that is no longer worth returning to?

Goldeneye is an FPS where you take control of James Bond, with the various missions and locations of the game loosely based off of the film of the same name. You collect a variety of weapons, and you are tasked with completing a number of objectives in each level, while killing any enemies who stand in your way.

This game did not make a good first impression, and it didn’t really get any better as the game progressed. The first major issue is the graphics. I know that the graphics will be dated, seeing as it’s an N64 title, but even so, the graphics are just downright ugly and bad. While Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time have dated graphics, they still had good visual design, and are nice to look at. Goldeneye’s graphics, on the other hand, are unappealing. This isn’t helped by the fact that if you stand too close to walls, you can see right through them, and in many cases you can clip through objects, which destroys what little immersion the game might have had.

But graphics aren’t everything. After all, the FPS Half Life has really dated graphics, and it’s still regarded as a classic. The difference, however, is that Half Life makes up for its dated graphics with solid gameplay and a compelling narrative, while Goldeneye has neither.

As far as story goes, it can be summed up as ‘You’re James Bond, and you have to shoot a lot of people.’ That’s really it, and there’s not much more to the narrative than that.

When it comes to the FPS genre, I’ll admit I much prefer keyboard and mouse controls over console controllers. There’s something about console controls for FPS games that just feels off to me. Still, the controls for most console FPS games are tolerable. The controls in Goldeneye, on the other hand, are incredibly difficult to manage, as moving around and aiming at things feels really wobbly and awkward. It gives you the impression that James Bond is both inebriated and has two dislocated elbows, and makes playing through the game a chore.

This is not helped by the rather lackluster enemy selection. You pretty much just fight the same generic enemy soldiers for almost the entire game, and this makes the game feel boring and repetitive. Not helping is the horrendous quality of the models of the enemies. Say what you will about Half Life’s dated NPCs, at least they were somewhat convincing. Goldeneye’s NPCs look like a mess of polygons that tried and failed to escape from the uncanny valley.

Between the ugly visuals, awkward controls, monotonous gameplay, boring level design, and almost nonexistent narrative, there’s absolutely nothing to recommend about Goldeneye. It’s not terrible by any means, but there are so many other games in the genre that are so much better in every aspect. Doom was better, Half Life was better, and despite what some people will try to tell you, there are plenty of modern shooters that are better. When put next to its peers, Goldeneye looks downright embarrassing, and the timeless quality of other N64 games is absent in this game. Unless you’re interested in exploring the evolution of the FPS genre, don’t bother with this one.

How well it holds up        1/4

Personal Enjoyment         2/5

Overall quality                  5/10

Not Recommended

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