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Ranking the Super Mario Bros. Series

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What is the best Super Mario game?

Following the release of Super Mario Maker 2, it’s time to rank the Super Mario Bros. series!

Not too long ago we gave you our ranking of the Legend of Zelda series and now we have decided to see how each entry in the Super Mario series stacks up when pitted against each other. After a lengthy voting process and a complicated point-tallying system, we here at Goomba Stomp have finally come up with a ranking of our favorite Super Mario games. These are not in the order of best to worst but instead, they are the ones we love from least to most! Without further explanation, here is the list of our favorite Super Mario Games!

For our list, we have these criteria:

The game must officially be a part of the Super Mario series and we are not including any remakes, remasters or package deals such as Super Mario All-Stars that include several games in the franchise.

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

22. Super Mario Run

While it’s probably fairly obvious that Super Mario Run is destined to wind up last on nearly every Mario list from now until eternity, this momentum-based mobile title is actually quite fun while it lasts — which can be surprisingly long, depending on how much you like its one-touch gameplay. Though pulling off the plumber’s simple jumps may not be quite as thrilling here as in the more expressive console versions, that familiar feeling of precision and timing is still present, even if distilled a bit throughout the twenty-four Tour levels. Some clever design leads to plenty of satisfying moments, especially when chasing the various colored coins, which can unlock three ultra-hard bonus levels.

Those deviously placed challenges are definitely the highlight of Super Mario Run, but there are still plenty of other diversions that offer meaningful rewards. Toad Rally sees players racing against a ‘ghost’ version of another player’s stage run, and requires not only deft knowledge of the quickest route, but also a stylish performance that includes moves rolls, wall jumps, and consecutive enemy stomps. The extra characters unlocked by gaining toad allies add new gameplay quirks that are fun to play around with, and may help with some of those tougher coins. And hey, it’s a mobile title, so why not include a kingdom builder of sorts? Spend those gold coins on a new Toad hut or golden Bowser Statue, play even-more-mini games, and generally just smile at the Mario goodness.

Is Super Mario Run a classic? No, but those who have some time on their hands might find themselves sinking more into this bite-sized title than they ever thought they would. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

21. Super Mario Land

A launch title for the original DMG Game Boy, Super Mario Land is best described as a quirky, short, and forgotten title that moves Mario in directions that are never revisited in the series. Developed without input from franchise creator Shigeru Miyamoto, the sidescroller takes many risks that both pay off and fail spectacularly, introducing new enemies, Princess Daisy, some Gradius-style shooter levels, an evil alien as the main boss, and much more.

Taking place in Sarasaland, Mario must rescue the new princess from the clutches of the evil spaceman Tatanga. Through land, water, and the sky, Mario moves between obscure Easter island levels, a submarine mission, a moderately uncomfortable Chinese stereotype level, and an airplane fight, eventually facing off against a UFO to save the princess and blast off into outer space.

Love it or hate it, this strange game deserves a place in franchise and console history, branching out in new directions to change the way that players look at the Nintendo mascot. With familiar gameplay and oddball elements, Super Mario Land at times feels like the best bootleg Mario title on the market, borrowing from other gaming trends of the time for a unique experience that honestly makes one wonder how the company viewed where the plucky plumber was headed. An incredibly short game, the title can be completed in a 30 or 40-minute sitting, but that does not mean that it isn’t worth picking up. Aided by outstanding level design and one of the best soundtracks of any Game Boy title, the game begs for repeated playthroughs while always offering a nostalgic 8bit experience. (Ty Davidson)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

20. Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels (1986)

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (known as Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan) gets a bad wrap outside its original market. The game was a true sequel to the original Super Mario Bros., and naturally unable to live up to the impact of its predecessor. When the game was shown to Nintendo of America’s Howard Philips, he declared it too hard for release in North America, later saying that “Not having fun is bad when you’re a company selling fun.”

Philips was probably right to hold off on the release of The Lost Levels, but he is incorrect about the game not being fun. It’s a delight to play and master, truthfully not much more difficult than the original Mega Man games. While Super Mario Bros. 3 rightfully gets credit for evolving the Mario franchise, The Lost Levels was the first Mario game to require exploration. Finding hidden boxes makes the seemingly impossible jumps doable, and after beating the main game, several bonus worlds unlock. The difference between Mario and Luigi’s jumping and weight began here as well.

It’s unfair that countless deaths and poison mushrooms take the headlines when talking about Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. It’s a fantastic platformer that anyone who enjoys the challenge of Odyssey‘s “The Darker Side of the Moon” is sure to love. Truthfully, if I had to play one Mario game for the rest of my life, Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, I’d choose Lost Levels. (Tyler Kelbaugh)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

19. Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988)

There are several design changes that make Super Mario Bros. 2 so different from its predecessor, starting with the pick-up-and-throw gameplay. The second difference is the elimination of the timer; this means players are no longer racing to the end, and therefore have plenty of time to fully explore each and every level. In addition, players can travel backward in a level if needed. However, the biggest change and improvement in this sequel is that Super Mario 2 opens up vertical gameplay. Whether it’s jumping onto platform after platform or climbing vines and ladders, Super Mario Bros. 2 encourages players to move vertically just as often as they scroll to the side. Usually, when making sequels, game designers don’t like to make too many big changes, but with Super Mario 2 the gameplay was completely different, and the setting and enemies were totally unfamiliar. In fact, the game doesn’t even take place in the Mushroom Kingdom, and there are neither Goombas nor Hammer Brothers anywhere in sight. Shy Guys and Bob-ombs are the most notable common enemies, and Birdo is the recurring foe this time around. Super Mario Bros. 2 was also the first Mario game to allow players to choose from multiple characters (Mario, his brother Luigi, the mushroom sidekick Toad, or Princess Peach), each with their own unique abilities.

There’s a good reason why Super Mario Bros. 2 is so different from all the other games in the series: originally, it was not intended to be a Mario game at all. What became Super Mario Bros. 2 started out as a prototype for a vertically scrolling, two-player cooperative action game called Yume K?j?: Doki Doki Panic, a Family Computer Disk System game meant to tie-in with Fuji Television’s media technology expo, called Yume K?j?. The real sequel to Super Mario Bros. (The Lost Levels) is actually quite similar to the first game, only more difficult to beat. All that aside, Super Mario Bros. 2 is a solid side-scrolling platformer that experimented in many new and daring ways — and thankfully for Nintendo, those risks paid off in spades. Super Mario Bros. 2 sold ten million copies and was the third highest-selling game ever released on the Nintendo Entertainment System at that time. Nintendo Power listed Super Mario Bros. 2 as the eighth-best NES video game, mentioning that regardless of not being originally released as a Mario game, it was able to stand on its own merits and is a unique take on the series’ trademark format. (Ricky D)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

18. Super Mario Land 2: The Six Golden Coins (1992)

Does the introduction of Mario’s crude, demented nemesis need any more reason to be on this list? Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins gave Nintendo fans their first sour taste of the crookedly-mustached Wario, something for which we shall always be thankful, but it also succeeds magnificently at standing out among the franchise’s platforming greatness. Though a straight-up sequel, this Game Boy classic takes more inspiration from Super Mario 3 and Super Mario World, with the more familiar cartoonish visuals, the ability to move both left and right, an overworld, and multiple paths to and through each level. The look and feel is so stark from its predecessor that it’s hard to relate the two, but a semblance of plot involves Wario having usurped Mario’s throne (?) while Sarasaland was being saved, brainwashing the loyal subjects of the Mushroom Kingdom’s hero in the process.

This bit of wackiness is only the start. For whatever reason, it seems like Nintendo’s development teams felt freed up by the Game Boy, reserving some of their strangest ideas for the portable versions of their popular series. Like with Link’s Awakening, the people working on Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins must have been a little loopy, somehow cool with devising a powerup that sees Mario grow a pair of rabbit ears that flap like wings, allowing for slower descents. There’s also an entire zone that takes place inside pumpkin, as well as another with a boss level that occurs inside a sleeping whale, which is in turn located inside a giant turtle. It doesn’t get less bizarre. These sorts of left-field oddities, along with an abundance of nice touches showcasing incredible attention to detail, make the world extremely entertaining, all the way to that fight against Mario’s greasy, greedy foe. In a franchise known for its outlandish creativity, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins holds its own — more than just an ugly face. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

17. New Super Mario Bros. Wii

In a shocking turn of events, a princess is kidnapped by a bunch of adolescent reptiles, spurring her blue-collar boo to run from left to right a bunch of times in order to knock the reptiles’ father/uncle into lava. As the tenth installment in the long-running Super Mario Bros. series, New Super Mario Bros. Wii isn’t very new at all. Indeed, it’s easy to look back at it now as “just another Mario game,” and part of the subpar “New” subseries at that. But at the time, New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the plumber’s grand return to home consoles — the first of its kind in nearly twenty years.

Though it might lack the genius of its legendary predecessors, the game was, by and large, a success. It was generally well-received by critics and went on to sell over 30 million units to become the fourth highest-selling Wii game. Even if longtime fans might have felt the game catered too heavily toward the Wii’s casual audience in its difficulty and blasé art style, it was more classic Mario platforming, with the intuitive controls and mechanics that make its gameplay so accessible, deep, and universally beloved.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii also introduced four-player simultaneous cooperative play and a Super Guide video showing how to beat a level, both of which have become series staples and make the game approachable for a wider audience. It also premiered the penguin and propeller power-ups, and brought back the fan-favorite Koopalings. Though it might not stand out from its New Super Mario Bros. series brethren, it remains a strong outing, and among the best 2D platformers on Nintendo’s highest-selling home console. (Kyle Rentschler)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

16. New Super Mario Bros. U

Released as a launch title for the Wii U in late 2012, New Super Mario Bros. U seemed destined to disappoint gamers eagerly awaiting a third entry in the Super Mario Galaxy series. As the fourth New Super Mario Bros. game in six years, and with the least amount of new content, New Super Mario Bros. U has faced an uphill battle to gain the recognition that it rightfully deserves. Shunned by the public and decried by gamers as Nintendo simply cashing in on existing assets, New Super Mario Bros. U is well worth the time and energy it takes to recognize its greatness.

While it may lack originality, New Super Mario Bros. U more than makes up for it by executing what is perhaps Mario’s most tightly constructed 2D platforming adventure yet. Balancing expertly the scales of difficulty and accessibility, the game manages to appeal to newcomers and veterans alike, and the Star Coin challenges are some of the finest in the New Super Mario Bros. series. That, coupled with a truly beautiful HD and sixty fps presentation, cement this as not only the best traditional New Super Mario Bros. game, but also one of the Wii U’s best outings. (Izsak Barnette)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

15. New Super Mario Bros. DS

Nobody does a throwback quite like Nintendo and New Super Mario Bros. is no exception. This game is packed with all of the lovely Mario-isms that properly filled any happy childhood, but with a little more graphical panache. It also adds two great new power-ups to the fold in the Mega Mushroom (which appropriately enough makes Mario into a massive, screen-shaking, Goomba-crushing colossus), and the Mini Mushroom (which has the opposite effect of shrinking Mario into a pint-sized plumber). New Super Mario Bros. also gets bonus points for having one of the coolest Bowser encounters ever during the finale. All of the addictive platforming action that made the NES and SNES iterations so memorable returns in a game that reminds you that sometimes the best way to move forward is by going back. (Mike Worby)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

13. Mario Maker 2

Super Mario Maker 2 is one the most robust titles in the Mario franchise, putting the Miyamoto magic in the hands of gamers to allow for endless hours of imagination, creativity, and fun. It’s a special title that somehow distills the joy of the Mario franchise into a bite-size package, allowing players to experience and enjoy 2d Mario action as though it was the very first time. Although many feared the title would be a simple soft reboot of its Wii U predecessor, the title greatly advanced on literally every feature included in the original Mario Maker, adding plenty of new design features, a fully fleshed out story mode, and outrageous multiplayer action.

Similar to its past release, Super Mario Maker 2 is designed with a simple but ambitious goal in mind: to give Mario power to the players and let them unleash their inner video game guru. To achieve the end, the title utilizes an incredibly intuitive grid layout where players can drag and drop landscape features, enemies, and more to build the level of their dreams. Once completed, these levels are uploaded to the Mario Maker 2 server to challenge gamers around the world. These levels are accessed through an incredibly intuitive course world with greatly improved filtering features, allowing players to find their perfect world in seconds based on a variety of criteria.

While the original Mario Maker was a fun experience, it’s the advancements that really make Super Mario Maker 2 something special. The new story mode is treated as a course design class, showing players how to incorporate game elements to build wacky and enjoyable worlds. These levels feel like a bit like they belong in NES Remix, boldly breaking some of the golden rules of Mario by being too weird and goofy for mainstream titles. In a franchise first, the title also adds coop and versus modes. When these modes are functioning well, they really shine; however, these additions are usually a beautiful and chaotic mess and make for a wild and laggy experience. Despite its faults, versus and coop are still wildly addictive and will bring many players back for more.

In the Nintendo library, Super Mario Maker 2 is so special because of just the sheer amount of worthwhile content that it offers, as there are legitimately too many great levels to play. For fans of the Mario 2d formula, Super Mario Maker 2 is a must-play title that offers thousands of hours of replayability, making it one of the best values in the Nintendo library. For fans that want to place themselves in Miyamoto’s shoes or want just want some classic side-scrolling action, Super Mario Maker 2 is the place to be.

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

12. Super Mario Maker

As the name might suggest, Super Mario Maker allows players to make their own Super Mario Bros. levels — specifically, levels that fit within the aesthetics of four games in the series: Super Mario Bros.Super Mario Bros. 3Super Mario Worldand New Super Mario Bros. U. Creating levels can be a daunting task, but what helps Super Mario Maker stand apart from other games like LittleBigPlanet is how easy it really is. Super Mario Maker keeps things simple by removing complicated elements like logic programming, and features an incredibly accessible level construction kit that anyone can easily enjoy.

The well-designed interface makes learning easy, and once you are finished, you can share your creations online with a passionate community of fans from around the world. And that is what makes Super Mario Maker so great — the play hub, where you can simply enjoy Mario Maker levels made by other people. With such an active and passionate community, Super Mario Maker provided Wii U owners with countless hours of gaming. Whether creating, exploring, watching others play and create, or just playing other people’s levels, Mario Maker provided us with an exceptional experience, all while offering insight into three decades of platforming brilliance. (Ricky D)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

11. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island has a bit of a strange twin in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Both followed widely acclaimed and genre-defining games, and somehow both chose to do somewhat similar yet insanely different things with their respective sequels. In the case of Yoshi’s Island, it was casting Yoshi as the hero, rather than Mario, and relegating the latter to a screeching infantile annoyance instead of the protagonist. Baby Mario’s recurring cry is probably the number one reason not to enjoy this game, but luckily there is a host of new ideas that more than make up for it. For one thing, Yoshi plays dramatically differently from Mario, and the fact that he is constantly hampered by having to keep everyone’s favorite plumber safe gives the game a puzzle-lite element that no one saw coming. The gorgeous animation and trademark level design only further raise SMW2‘s status as an instant cult classic, and another great example of how going a different direction for a sequel, rather than retreading the original, can work wonders in the long run. (Mike Worby)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

10. Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D Land represents the first 3DS title to make full use of the system’s array of capabilities. With an expertly balanced difficulty progression, dazzling level design, and masterful Power-Ups, this is the ideal 3DS experience. As an experience, Super Mario 3DLandgets deeper the longer you play, as you sink into its particular groove and learn to appreciate it as a unique title — one that is separate from yet beautifully derivative of the entire Mario franchise. As a whole, 3D Land is brilliant and addictive, and does for 3D-enhanced platforming what the original Super Mario Bros. did for 2D platforming. (Katrina Lind)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

9. Super Mario Sunshine

The year was 2001, and Nintendo had just released its lovable purple lunchbox, the Nintendo GameCube. While the innovative Luigi’s Mansion had just come out, the console lacked what it truly needed: a 3D Super Mario game. Super Mario Sunshine provided just that, sending Mario on a vacation that he would not soon forget. Sunshine is a tough, but rewarding game (my 8-year-old self-found it positively infuriating) that still holds up well today, despite being the weakest of the 3D Super Mario games. Mario’s jetpack/water gun, named F.L.U.D.D., is an incredibly interesting addition, augmenting Mario’s move set in a way unheard of until Super Mario Odyssey, and paving the way for a great experience. While the story is horrendous (even for a Mario platformer) and a 30fps framerate cap looks really strange in a Mario title, Super Mario Sunshine is still a good game that has, for the most part, stood the test of time.  (Izak Barnette)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

8. Super Mario 3D World

Super Mario 3D World had a lot to live up to at its launch. The previous three 3D Mario titles on N64, GameCube, and Wii had all cleverly innovated on (or in Super Mario 64’s case, even invented) the traditional 3D platformer. As a follow-up to the critically acclaimed Super Mario 3D Land on the Nintendo 3DS, Super Mario 3D World wasn’t the 3D Mario game that gamers expected, but it proved subtly brilliant, providing the Wii U with one of its finest titles in the process.

From the adorable Super Bell, which transforms Mario and Co. into lovable catsuit-wearing adventurers, to the story-book plot involving Bowser kidnapping the Sprixies, every aspect of Super Mario 3D World feels cozy. Expertly designed landscapes beautifully rendered in high definition complement the charm evident from the game’s inception. Such beautiful design, combined with a spectacular jazz-inspired score and excellent controls, cement what is one of the best 3D Mario games to date. (Izsak Barnette)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

7. Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey is arguably the most important Super Mario game since Super Mario 64 launched on the N64. I personally may not like it more than the incredible 3D World released on the Wii U, but Odyssey is guaranteed to help Nintendo sell even more Switch consoles while simultaneously reinventing the series for a whole new generation.

What makes Odyssey special is that it isn’t so much a sandbox game as it is a toy box. When it came to creating Odyssey, instead of making a vast open world, the creators decided to make the levels in Odyssey smaller but packed them with as many characters, puzzles, hidden secrets, call-backs and various obstacles for you to discover. The whole game is basically structured like a giant playground and the more time you spend messing around, the more likely you’ll be rewarded for it. Not since Super Mario 64 has a Mario platformer placed such a heavy emphasis on exploration, and boy is it ever fun running around these breathtakingly gorgeous, intricately designed levels that are oozing with style. Odyssey encourages players to explore every nook and cranny, and it helps that Mario now has Cappy to use as a standard throw attack. That possession power embodied by Mario’s new sidekick is what makes Odyssey stand out from every other entry in the series. It’s a brilliant idea that allows for dozens of additional playable characters, all with different powers, abilities, and ways of getting around. Mario has always worn many hats but in this game, he’s anything and everything he wants to be.

For every new idea Odyssey throws at you, this is also a game filled with nostalgia and it’s worth noting just how many amazing references there are, both big and small, to the series’ past. You’ll encounter familiar characters, challenges, music cues and more from past games, and there are even moments when Mario transforms back into his 8-bit self! These 2D segments where Mario enters a warp pipe and is transported to a world that precisely recreates the 8-bit Super Mario Bros’ mechanics and visual style may be the game’s biggest surprise and sometimes, it offers the hardest challenges. And for those of you who have finished the game, I’m sure you’ll agree that the New Donk City music festival, which recreates the stages from the original Donkey Kong, might be the biggest gaming highlight of that year.

The finale is a brilliantly executed sequence as well, letting Mario hop inside Bowser’s mind and body and rampage through a dying moon. That particular turn of events feels poetic and an ingenious way to celebrate one of the longest-running franchises in gaming. It’s also a testament to the sheer creativity underlying Odyssey that, even after watching the credits roll, there’s so much left to discover. They say it’s all about the journey and not about the ending, but with Odyssey, the journey continues on. (Ricky D)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

6. Super Mario Galaxy 2

Few sequels can quite capture the brilliance of their predecessors. Many thought that Nintendo had caught lightning in a bottle when they released the original Super Mario Galaxy in 2007, but 2010’s Super Mario Galaxy 2 set a new bar of excellence for the plumber’s adventures. By incorporating classic elements such as Yoshi, and by creatively imagining new elements such as the Cloud Flower, Nintendo breathed life into the Galaxy series while also maintaining the quality present in the original.

In many ways, Super Mario Galaxy 2 surpasses the original Galaxy. The levels are more creative, the power-ups are more interesting, and the introduction of Yoshi adds creative flair to the level design. The music is equally stunning, matched only by the original Galaxy in its brilliance. Mahito Yokota, Ryo Nagamatsu, and Koji Kondo’s soundtrack embodies the wonder and thrill of space while excellently incorporating classic Super Mariothemes.

While some may call it nothing more than DLC for the original, Super Mario Galaxy 2 improves on the first game dramatically while also adding enough inventive, fresh content to make this game the definitive Galaxy experience. (Izsak Barnette)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

5. Super Mario Bros. (1985)

It’s hard to imagine a video game industry today without Super Mario Bros. Here’s the title that single-handedly revitalized the gaming industry and solidified Nintendo as the King of the video game market. While the vast majority of early video games at the time were largely designed by the programmers coding them, Super Mario Bros. was instead made by Shigeru Miyamoto, an artist first and foremost, who graduated with a degree in industrial design. As with Donkey Kong, character mattered most. Players would control Mario, accompanying him on his journey through the Mushroom Kingdom on his quest to rescue Princess Peach from the vicious Bowser, King of the Koopas. It quickly became synonymous with the Nintendo Entertainment System and helped the NES become the top-selling console of its time. The video game crash of 1983 was officially over, and the famous brick-busting duo became household names.

Super Mario Bros. is one of the most iconic video games ever conceived due to the sprawling level design, clever enemy placement, hidden secrets, optional sub-routes, superb physics, legendary soundtrack, and gorgeous sprite-work. Without it, the video game industry wouldn’t be the same. (Ricky D)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

4. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990)

Super Mario Bros. 3 was critically acclaimed, and with reason — there is not a fault to be found anywhere in the game. For the time, it was beyond anything you could ever dream. Super Mario Bros. 3 is a masterpiece, a perfect video game with eight worlds and 70-plus ingenious levels of side-scrolling awesomeness. One world is packed with giant renditions of every character, others feature underwater adventures, and some take you through spooky castles and dungeons. As you move ahead, you’ll discover that each level contains optional paths leading to shortcuts and extra lives hidden away. The best things are the power-ups and various suits you can use inside the levels. Mario can now slide down hills, knocking down enemies who get in his way, and the powerups from the original game also make an appearance.

Also new to the series are mini-games and an overhead map screen to track progress and collectible warp whistles (much like the one Link used in Zelda II) that teleport you to later worlds in the game. In addition, there is the music box that puts enemies on the map to sleep, as well as the anchor to stop the Koopaling’s airship from flying off around the map so that you don’t have to chase it. Juergen’s Cloud allows you to skip a level, and Kuribo’s shoe, easily one of the most beloved power-ups in Mario history, can be found in only one level! The familiar Mario sound effects are present and accounted for, along with a batch of new musical compositions concocted by Koji Kondo, and dozens of new enemies like Boom Booms, Boos, and Chain Chomps make their very first appearance in the Nintendo universe. Super Mario Bros 3 is often considered to be the best video game of the 8-bit generation. In my opinion, it is, and it is also the best game in the Super Mario series. It’s a timeless masterpiece, full of innovation and surprises, one that will forever stand the test of time. (Ricky D)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

3. Super Mario World (1991)

If you were one of those kids in the early ’90s who was lucky enough to wake up to a Super Nintendo under your Christmas tree, then you know all about Super Mario World. This was the game that was flashing all over your TV commercials in between episodes of Darkwing Duck and The Ren & Stimpy Show. Bright colors! Loud noises! Holy crap, is that plumber riding a dinosaur!?!

Yes, unsurprisingly, Super Mario World was a pretty big deal back in 1991. What is surprising, however, is just how big of a deal this game still is today. Over 25 years later, you can still pop in your SMW cartridge and have a blast. That’s the kind of staying power that cannot be overstated. You can really just break it down to some utterly impeccable game design. The way Mario moves and the timing of the jumps in Super Mario World creates a perfect balance of a rising challenge that meets the player’s growing repertoire of skills again and again as the game progresses. The introduction of elements like ghost houses (with multiple exits), a map that grew and expanded all the time, and of course everyone’s favorite over-eating dinosaur, made Super Mario World truly feel different than everything which had come before it.

Looking back, even all of these years later, it’s no stretch to say that this is maybe the best game in the entire series. Not only that, but you’ll get no argument if you bring Super Mario World up in a conversation about the best games of all time. (Mike Worby

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

2. Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy is not only the best title on the Nintendo Wii, but it is also the single greatest example of what the entertainment medium of gaming has to offer. It is the definition of a masterpiece: unprecedented level design, an endless stream of imaginative and creative ideas, and (most importantly) a rock-solid gameplay system that stands head and shoulders above every other 3D title, period. Galaxy is the culmination of everything Nintendo EAD Tokyo has learned from years of game development. The awe-inspiring orchestral soundtrack and second-to-none visuals create an experience that simply does not age. All of this is backed by a staggering amount of content in the form of collectible stars that are represented as completely unique challenges. Nintendo has once again succeeded in highlighting the best of what games have to offer. There is no over-reliance on narrative, no over-complicated gimmick that tries too hard to be unique; it is the quintessential gameplay experience, perfected. (Zack Rezak)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

1. Super Mario 64

Nintendo set itself a nearly impossible task when creating Super Mario 64. It was one of the earlier three-dimensional platform games, with degrees of freedom through all three axes in space, and features relatively large areas that are composed primarily of true 3D polygons, as opposed to only two-dimensional sprites. The game established a new archetype for the 3D genre, and showed us what the future of video games would soon look like. From the moment players turned on Super Mario 64, the differences were apparent. Mario sounded different, he looked different, and he moved differently. And ever since, the game has left a lasting impression.

There is no doubt that Super Mario 64 was nothing short of revolutionary. The title is acclaimed by many critics and fans as one of the greatest and most revolutionary video games of all time. The flaws, although few, are overshadowed by the awe-inspiring level design, sophisticated 3D graphics, brain-busting puzzles, and sheer imagination. Super Mario 64 is tough to beat, and one of the few games in the series that rewards curious, brave, determined, and stubborn gamers. The sheer scale of the achievement is something to admire. Not only does Super Mario 64 stand the test of time, but the game is a masterpiece in the truest sense of the word. (Ricky D)

Humans by birth. Gamers by choice.Goomba Stomp is a Canadian web publication that has been independently owned and operated since its inception in 2016.

Games

‘Daemon X Machina’ – Spotlighting 2019’s Least-Hyped Switch Game

Daemon X Machina made a bold first impression with its bombastic announcement at E3 2018 – and gamers promptly stopped caring about it. It’s time for that to change.

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Daemon x Machina

Daemon X Machina made a bold first impression with its bombastic announcement at E3 2018 – and gamers promptly stopped caring about it. It’s time for that to change.

From the very beginning, Daemon X Machina has struggled for attention.  It’s certainly not for lack of trying; after all, Nintendo has worked tirelessly to help promote this Switch-exclusive mech action game from Marvelous, even going so far as to position it as the first announcement of its big E3 Direct last year. Despite these efforts, though, Daemon X Machina has often been lost in the shuffle of other Switch exclusives. When there’s constantly talks of a new Animal Crossing, Zelda, or Smash Bros., an original IP like Daemon X Machina easily gets left out of the conversation. However, there’s no denying that it has some incredible potential, making it a game that’s certainly worth checking out amidst the crowded release schedule for the rest of the year. Now is the time to spotlight that ahead of its launch on September 13.

A good mech game doesn’t need to do much – it must simply provide the player with massive robot suits, near-excessive over-the-top action, and a story to help the game make at least a little sense. Daemon X Machina looks set to deliver in all three of those departments. It will feature a huge amount of flexibility to create the perfect mech, thanks to hundreds of interchangeable weapons and body parts, many of which can be scavenged from fallen enemies. With gargantuan destructible environments and hordes of robotic foes to take down, the combat looks to be as extravagant as some of the best action games of recent years. That’s not to mention the main plot, which focuses on the aftermath of the moon exploding. Yes, it does sound like ridiculous anime-inspired fodder, but a game about giant roots blowing each other out of the sky doesn’t need a plot that adheres to realism. It need only set up a somewhat-reasonable backdrop for intense mechanized combat, and in that regard, it’s looking like a recipe for success.

Daemon X Machina

All these features are great on their own, but what makes them truly exciting is the pedigree behind them. Daemon X Machina is being developed by a dream team of developers who have worked extensively on some of the most iconic mech games ever made. For instance, the team includes Kenichiro Tsukuda and Shoji Kawamori, who respectively produced and designed the mechs for the legendary Armored Core series. This team aims to take the classic formula that made Armored Core and other classics so special and put it back in the spotlight with Daemon X Machina. However, that doesn’t mean that it will be merely derivative. It already displays a distinct personality of its own thanks to its ambitious gameplay concepts (again, exploding moon) and its distinctive cell-shaded visuals. Its striking color palette of bold reds, blacks, and whites shouldn’t be surprising, considering that its art is directed by none other than Yusuke Kozaki, who has worked on such stylish titles as the No More Heroes series.

If it achieves its potential, Daemon X Machina could be a godsend for its genre. While it would be unfair to call the mech action genre “dead,” it is certainly quite niche. This would be the first time in years that a giant robot action game has had the full support of a major company like Nintendo behind it. And while Nintendo has already supported this genre in the past, this will be the first time that it’s done so on a hit console like the Switch, which automatically gives it a wide and passionate audience. Even with its inherent niche status, Daemon X Machina is already in a better position than many similar games before it thanks to its publisher and platform. If it does well, it could inspire Nintendo and other companies to promote similar games, leading to a needed revival of the genre’s popularity.

But this leads to one of the simultaneously best and worst aspects of Daemon x Machina: its demo. Marvelous released an early demo on the Switch eShop back in February with the intention of drumming up interest in the game and getting player feedback. To put it plainly, it wasn’t very good. The action felt unsatisfying with a lack of any feeling of real impact with each blow; it was difficult to aim at enemies due to imprecise targeting systems, poor visibility, and an absence of gyro controls; and worst of all, its performance was horrendous. It was stuck at a mere thirty frames per second, which is already less than ideal for such a fast-paced action game. But it didn’t even manage to hit that target consistently, leading to a choppy and unsatisfying experience. One need only take a quick look through Digital Foundry’s breakdown to understand the demo’s many issues.

Daemon X Machina

“Marvelous did something incredible here: they listened to their fans.”

However, the demo has turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise. Shortly after the demo’s release, Marvelous distributed a survey to many players and requested their feedback. A few months later, Nintendo released a new trailer showing how the feedback had been integrated into the game. The full list of changes reads like a wish list of everything that needed to be adjusted following the demo. Highlights include the addition of gyro controls, improved targeting and feedback systems, and most importantly, an improved framerate. In fact, the developers have stated that performance was one of their “top priorities” when adjusting the game.

Marvelous did something incredible here: they listened to their fans. The fact that they were so open to feedback and eager to improve bodes incredibly well for the final release. They know that the mech action genre isn’t what it used to be, and they seem truly passionate about creating a quality title in the genre they love. In an industry that is so often focused more on emptying players’ wallets than creating a worthwhile title, this attitude is incredibly refreshing, hinting of a project that’s filled with genuine care and passion.

The unfortunate truth remains that Daemon X Machina is bound to be one of Nintendo’s least-hyped games this year. As long as games like Astral Chain, Dragon Quest XI S, and Link’s Awakening are all releasing within the same month, it will almost inevitably remain that way. But there is incredible promise for it nonetheless. With the quality of the game design, the legacy of its creators, and their clear passion for their project, it looks set to become something very special and deserves every bit of attention it can get. If fans can look past the games that typically hog the spotlight to find this bombastic little secret, they could be in for an enthusiastic, if under-hyped revival of a once-dormant genre.

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‘Earthbound’ is one of the Weirdest, Most Surreal Video Games

25 Years later…

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Games that Changed Our Lives

The SNES is arguably home to some of the best Japanese role-playing games ever made, but even among such revered company, Earthbound (known as Mother 2 in Japan) stands out as a brilliant satire about growing up and our fears of conformity. It’s anarchy versus conformity, only conformity doesn’t stand a chance.

EarthBound has been often compared to Catcher in the Rye with its complex issues of identity, belonging, loss, connection, and alienation. Blistering, hallucinatory, often brilliant, Earthbound is a one-two punch of social satire and a hilarious ride into the twisted recesses of a boy’s psyche. This often funny, always poignant coming of age tale, deeply embedded in suburban mores, centers around four kids, off to save the planet by collecting melodies while en route to defeating the evil alien force known as Giygas.

Earthbound
Earthbound
didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it sure had fun twisting the usual JRPG tropes. There’s a princess you must rescue, not once, but twice, who’s really just a child prodigy, and there’s an arch nemesis who turns out to be your next-door neighbour. The game puts you in the shoes of a young boy named Ness as he investigates a nearby meteorite crash. There, he learns that Giygas, has enveloped the world in hatred and consequently turned animals, humans, and inanimate objects into dangerous creatures. A bee from the future instructs Ness to collect melodies in a Sound Stone to preemptively stop Giygas from destroying the planet. While visiting eight Sanctuaries, Ness partners with three other kids, a psychic girl (Paula), an eccentric inventor (Jeff), and the prince of the kingdom of Dalaam (Poo). Along the way are underlining themes of corrupt politicians, post-traumatic stress, corporate greed, depression, capitalism, police violence, terrorist attacks, homosexuality, religious cults, and xenophobia. Your adventures take you through modern cities, prehistoric villages, cold winter climates, a desert wasteland, monkey caves, swamps, dinosaur museums, and even a yellow submarine.

“Ness, you’ve stood on the eight power spots of the earth. From these, you created Magicant, the realm of your mind.”

A pivotal moment in the game comes after collecting all eight melodies with the Sound Stone. After Ness has taken control of his Sanctuaries, Ness visits, Magicant, a surreal location that exists only in his mind and contains his warmest memories and his worst fears – an allegory perhaps, for how the entire game allows us to see into the mind of the creator. There, Ness must face his dark side. A man tells him, “Magicant is a place where you must cleanse yourself of the evil hidden within your mind. Take the time to look around, it is your mind after all.”

EarthBound is arguably one of the single best RPGs ever made, and boasts one of the best storylines of any game.


The tone of Earthbound is perhaps its most fascinating attribute, best exemplified by its most famous quote: “There are many difficult times ahead, but you must keep your sense of humor.” Earthbound skillfully surprises you with a reservoir of emotion and sentiment that happily counters the game’s trendy ironic veneer. Along the way, Ness visits the cultists of Happy Happy Village (based on a real-life Japanese doomsday cult founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984); their mission statement is to paint the town red by literally painting it blue. You’ll fight a watchful puddle of vomit and battle through the zombie-infested town of Threed. You’ll use a peculiar device called the Pencil Eraser to remove statues of pencils that block you from advancing through specific areas, and you’ll suffer through terrifying hallucinations of your family and friends, and be asked to dismember your arms and legs, or otherwise, lose your mind. In one of the game’s most memorable moments, Paula is kidnapped by the Department Store Spook, an unseen entity that resides in the town’s shopping mall. And after defeating Frank Fly and his evil creation Frankystein Mark II, you’ll be escorted to the back of a police precinct, only to be assaulted by four officers and Captain Strong, the chief of the Onett police force. Defeat the corrupt cops and you’ll gain access to the second town you’ll visit (named TWOson, so as not to be confused with Onett, Threed, and Fourside). And when entering a cave, you’ll battle five moles made up of members who each believe themselves to be the third-most powerful of their group. Then there is backwards city Moonside, a warped mirror image of Fourside, that hides a secret more terrifying than the town itself. Just walking around feels like something between an out-of-body experience and a nightmarish trance, in which abstract art attacks you and the psychedelic imagery, lit by gaudy fluorescent neon-lights which contrasts the entire look and feel of what came before. It’s a city where yes means no and no means yes; a place where blond-haired business men teleport you across the city blocks and where an invisible man with a unibrow and a gold tooth gets you past the sketchy sailor hiding out in the back alley.


Throughout the game, Ness is repeatedly antagonized by his neighbor, Pokey, who resurfaces several times, and countless other enemies including Titanic Ant, professional thief Mr. Everdred, and a glorious evil statue Mani, Mani. But the real big bad of the game is the aforementioned Giygas, a.k.a. The “Embodiment of Evil” and the “Universal Cosmic Destroyer”, who intends to sentence all of reality to the horror of infinite darkness. Giygas borrows heavily from Stephen King’s It and was inspired by a murder scene from the black-and-white Japanese horror film The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beautya sequence which scarred creator Shigesato Itoi, when he accidentally watched the film as a child. Giygas is without question, the most disturbing, and strangest end-boss villain of any Super NES game – a character so deranged, there’s been hundreds of fan theories about what he really is.

While EarthBound’s overall gameplay feels like a traditional Japanese RPG of the era, the game is full of ingenious ideas that buck genre trends. EarthBound also makes no apologies for being very difficult to complete. It takes days to finish and is most challenging at the beginning when Ness travels alone and hasn’t yet powered-up. Inventory space remains incredibly limited since each character can only carry a certain amount of items and you can’t drop many of the items since they will come in handy later in the game. Boosting your XP is a must, otherwise, you won’t stand a chance in defeating any boss; and currency is also important when buying new weapons or visiting the hospital to attend to fatal injuries. Money must be withdrawn from the nearest ATM, deposited by your estranged father, and a bedtime snack from your loving mother sends you off to bed to recharge your stats. There are other refreshing deviations from RPG tropes, and every one of the four characters has a specific skill-set.

Earthbound is a strange game, themed around an idiosyncratic portrayal of American culture from a Japanese point of view. The game subverted popular role-playing game traditions by featuring a real-world setting while playing with various staples of the genre and adding a number of pop-culture references throughout. The Japanese title was inspired by the song of the same name by John Lennon – a song about growing up without a father for most of his life, and unsurprising, Ness’ dad is never once seen, and only communicates with his son via telephone. And that’s not the only Beatles reference you’ll see: EarthBound makes two additional nods to the world’s greatest band, along with allusions to Bugs Bunny, comedian Benny Hill, Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap, the Blues Brothers, Monopoly (Monotoli), Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Rambo, Mr. T, and The Who, to name a few. Written, directed, and created by famous Japanese personality Shigesato Itoi; this is surely his love letter to 20th-century Americana.

Localizing Earthbound was a massive undertaking. Under directives from Nintendo, Marcus Lindblom worked with the Japanese artists and programmers to remove references to intellectual property, religion, and alcohol from the American release, such as the Coca-Cola logo and the red crosses on hospitals (due to issues with the Red Cross). Alcohol became coffee, Ness was no longer walking around nude in the Magicant area and the Happy Happyist blue cultists sprites were altered to look less like Ku Klux Klansmen. The Runaway Five members’ outfits were changed to make them look less like the Blues Brothers, and the “Sky Walker” was changed to the “Sky Runner” to avoid the Star Wars reference. Apollo Theater was changed to Topolla Theater, presumably to avoid issues with the real-life venue and the use of the word drug, seen on the various town maps was removed or changed. The list goes on and on…

Chock full of odd charm and humour in a genre that usually takes itself a little too serious, Earthbound is one of the weirdest, most surreal video games you’ll ever have fun playing.

earthbound

The game had a lengthy development spanning five years and involved a number of Japanese luminaries, including writer Shigesato Itoi, songwriter Keiichi Suzuki, sound designer Hirokazu Tanaka, and future Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. Released in a huge box-set that contained a strategy guide with scratch-and-sniff stickers, Earthbound came with a $2 million marketing campaign derived from the game’s unusual brand of humor. As part of Nintendo’s “Play It Loud” campaign, EarthBound’s tagline read, “this game stinks.” Earthbound was proud to one of the most bizarre RPGs – and it didn’t shy away from its offbeat premise. Unfortunately, the game was met with poor critical response and sales in the United States, but as the years went by, the game received wide acclaim and was deemed by many a timeless classic. It has since become one of the most sought-after games in the second-hand market, selling for upwards of $80 for the cartridge alone. Holding onto an incredibly dedicated cult following, the main character Ness became a featured character in the Super Smash Bros. series and in 2013, EarthBound was reissued and given a worldwide release for the Wii U Virtual Console following many years of fan lobbying.

EarthBound is arguably one of the single best RPGs ever made, and boasts one of the best storylines of any game. There are two extremely popular fan-made sites dedicated to the game (Starmen.netEarthboundCentral), and dozens of other sites have devoted countless hours in translating the sequel for English-speaking audiences. Earthbound was ahead of its time when released and its influence continues to be felt, inspiring the likes of Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Majora’s Mask, Chibi Robo, Retro City Rampage, and South Park: The Stick of Truth.

While Earthbound’s game mechanics stick to the traditional JRPG template, its surreal world, imaginative locals, and experimental soundtrack created a truly unique experience. Nothing stands out quite like its visual style – an 8-bit presentation powered by a 16-bit processor. The graphics might not be as advanced as some of the other 16-bit titles available on the SNES, but it is certainly among the most memorable. The SNES was home to some amazing soundtracks, but EarthBound’s soundtrack remains the best. Created by four composers, there’s enough music here to fill 8 of the 24 megabits on the cartridge – with direct musical quotations of classical tune and folk music, and a few samples culled from commercial pop and rock. It also contains one of the very best endings in any video game, a touching climax that captures the vulnerability and beauty of adolescence and the power of friendship. And the punctuation mark comes during the credits. Throughout the game, you’ll cross paths several times with a photographer who descends from the sky and snaps a photograph of your most recent achievement. These pictures will roll throughout the credits, serving as a makeshift montage of your time spent playing the game. And be sure to stay until the very end. To say more would be giving away the surprise.


I can’t think of another game as irreverently comic and deeply touching as Earthbound. Here is a game that resonates long after completion, and oozes originality in just about every frame. Ness may rock his sweet ball cap, handy backpack, telekinetic powers, and a trusty baseball bat, but even this hero needs to call his mom regularly, otherwise, he may suddenly find himself useless in battle. Earthbound stands, sweet and strong, outrageous and quirky, like its heroes — it’s about the loss of innocence as well as gaining wisdom – and is one of those treasures absolutely not to be missed. While it suffers from a slow start and stretched premise, the charm of its cast debunking an intergalactic conspiracy goes a long way. Of all the games I own on the Super NES, Earthbound is the game I treasure the most and the game that made me fall in love with the medium.

– Ricky D

EarthboundGameManual

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Indie World 2019: The Best Games From Nintendo’s Showcase

With a healthy mix of brand new titles and a few shocking ports, here’s all the best games announced at Nintendo’s Indie World showcase.

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Indie World

Whenever Nintendo announces another indie presentation, it’s impossible to know what to expect. One may be a fairly low-key event, while another might announce a brand new Zelda game. The latest “Indie World” presentation for Gamescom 2019 found itself somewhere in the middle. It didn’t feature quite as many earth shattering reveals as the previous presentation in March, but with a healthy mix of promising new titles, updates on previously announced games, and a few shocking ports, Indie World was a worthwhile showcase in its own right. Without further ado, here’s some of the very best game announcements from the presentation, arranged in order of their appearance.

Eastward

Indie World

I’m firmly of the belief that you can never have too many Zelda-likes in your life. For this reason alone, Eastward looks like it could be an exciting addition to the Switch’s indie lineup. Better yet, this latest Chuckelfish-published game looks like it has all the makings of a great entry in the genre.

It tells a simple story: a miner finds a young girl alone in a secret underground facility, and together, they go on to explore a post-apocalyptic land. Although this world has been apparently ravaged by a cataclysmic disaster, it still looks gorgeous thanks to its lush pixel art and fluid character animations. Pair this with your typical Zelda-like gameplay loop of overworld exploration and dungeon puzzle-solving, and Eastward looks like it will be a promising prospect when it releases next year.

The Touryst

Indie World

Shin’en Multimedia has long been known for making some of the best-looking titles on Nintendo consoles with visual stunners like the Fast Racing series. However, The Touryst is a departure from the games they’re known for. While it’s just as breathtaking as their previous work with its beautiful lighting and voxel-based design, it’ll be a much slower experience than Shin’en’s signature lightning-fast racing games.

As its name would suggest, it focuses on a tourist taking a relaxing tropical vacation, whiling away their time with activities like shopping, scuba diving, and visiting arcades. However, the trailer also hints of a greater mystery lurking beneath this laid-back surface. With Zelda-like dungeons to explore and puzzles to solve as well as a contemporary tropical setting, it seems like it could be considered a spiritual successor to the NES cult classic, StarTropics. It should definitely be one to keep an eye on when it launches this November.

Röki

Who’s the real monster here? Röki is a narrative-focused adventure game set in a world taken straight out of Scandinavian fairytales, featuring a snow-laden forest inhabited by fantastical creatures of Nordic mythology.  It puts players in control of a young woman exploring this mystical environment, with the goal of saving her family and interacting with these various monsters. Its visuals adopt a beautiful storybook style, and with its emphasis on accessible gameplay and telling a touching story, it looks like it could be a worthwhile purchase for anyone in search of a more poignant adventure when it hits Switch this winter.

SUPERHOT

Indie World

It’s not a true Nintendo presentation without a shadow drop or two, so SUPERHOT took it upon itself to be the first to fill that void during Indie World. It’s a striking shooter built upon one simple concept: time only moves when you do. This core idea creates a uniquely methodical approach to the genre, nearly turning SUPERHOT into more of a puzzler than a shooter. It’s already made quite an impact on other platforms, so it should fit right in on Nintendo’s hybrid wonder – and best of all, it’s available right now.

Hotline Miami Collection

Indie World

If it has style, action, and plenty of violence, it’s probably a Devolver Digital game. The boutique indie publisher has supported the Switch with plenty of quality games over the past few years, but the brutal series that launched the publisher into fame in the first place has been strangely absent. Thankfully, that changed today with the surprise release of the Hotline Miami Collection on the eShop.

Gathering both games in the iconic Hotline Miami top-down shooter series into a single package, this release brings all of their signature hardcore difficulty and neon style to a Nintendo platform for the first time. For anyone who’s enjoyed Devolver’s fantastic output thus far on the Switch but hasn’t yet experienced these famously bloody titles, it should be an excellent purchase.

Ori and the Blind Forest

Microsoft’s surreal love affair with Nintendo continues with the reveal that another Xbox One console exclusive will be making its way to Switch. Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition is the ultimate version of the acclaimed artistic platformer. It will feature the same beautiful visuals, detailed world, and touching story that made the original release so special, along with all the additional areas, story, and improvements of the Definitive Edition.

For those concerned that the game’s incredible visuals will lose their luster on Nintendo’s under-powered device, there’s no need to worry: the developers have confirmed that the Switch version contains no compromises, running at a locked 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution while docked, with a native 720p resolution in handheld mode. It joins the ranks of Cuphead and Super Lucky’s Tale as yet another former Microsoft exclusive to appear on Nintendo’s console, and with its uncompromising conversion to Switch, it should be one of the most remarkable Switch ports yet when it releases on September 27.

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‘Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ Review: Raising the New Generation to a High Standard

Fire Emblem: Three Houses marks a triumphant return to home console that puts in the effort to pull the player into its world.

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There are few comeback stories in the gaming industry as impressive as that of the Fire Emblem series. After very nearly going cold the grid-based, SRPG was single-handedly saved by 2013’s Fire Emblem Awakening and has since gone on to prosper as one of Nintendo’s most well-recognized IP’s. Now, after more than a decade, the storied franchise makes its return to home consoles with Fire Emblem: Three Houses, an entry that takes bold steps forward in promoting it above and beyond anything the series has seen to date.

Three Houses, Three Countries, One Path

Fire Emblem: Three Houses takes place on the continent of Fodlan and consists of three major countries. At the center of the three territories is the Garreg Mach Monastery which simultaneously houses the Military Officer’s Academy as well as The Church of Seiros, the land’s primary religion. The game picks up with your self-named protagonist being appointed a professor at the Monastery after protecting some of its students from a bandit attack. At the same time, an enigmatic young girl named Sothis begins appearing in your dreams who alludes to ominous events to come.

Sothis
Sothis will aid the player character throughout their journey

The gameplay of Fire Emblem: Three Houses can be split into two categories — The traditional turn-based grid combat familiar from past titles and the teaching and guidance of students at the monastery. Teaching and school life are brand new to the franchise and are the foundation on which the entire game is built upon.

In the early goings of the game, you are asked to choose between the three classes, or houses, to instruct and guide in your time as a professor. These three houses — The Black Eagles, The Blue Lions, and The Golden Deer — each correspond to one of the three countries of Fodlan and consists of students from those territories. Your selection of which house to lead will have ramifications that permeate practically every aspect of the game including the story, units available in combat, and interactions within the school; this lends the decision a weight that goes beyond choosing who has the prettiest faces.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses House Leaders
Claude, Dimitiri, and Edelgard are the heads of their respective houses and will play pivotal roles in the game if you choose them

The school year is divided into months with school activities taking up the bulk of the time that culminates with an assigned battle at the end. As a professor, you are tasked with teaching your students the art of war and this is accomplished primarily in the classroom. 

Each week begins with establishing a lesson plan for your class. You can work with students one-on-one to develop specific skills of various weapon types, assign them to group tasks to forge bonds and other proficiencies, and help them establish goals that they will work towards on their own time. Doing so allows them to equip better weapons and, most importantly, acquire new class types through certification exams. 

Small events such as students asking questions on subject matter or seeking advice on their goal paths are evocative or actually being a teacher. It’s easy to grow attached to your students as you guide them from a lowly Commoner class to something as grand as a War Master over the course of the game. While Three Houses does a good job of easing the player into these intricacies, there is an Auto-Instruct option available as well for those who find it daunting or don’t care for perfect optimization.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Teaching

The end of each week features a free day that can be spent in one of three different ways. You can host a seminar with another faculty member that provides a large amount of skill experience or embark on battles for quest rewards and character-specific paralogues that help flesh out their backstories. The option to explore the monastery, however, is the most interesting and involved of the three as it gives you free rein to roam about the campus in a fully 3D environment.

All In a Day’s Work 

Garreg Mach Monastery is sprawling, with numerous buildings explore, courtyards to walk through, and facilities to take advantage of. While the graphics of Three Houses aren’t necessarily something to write home about from a technical perspective — there are even moments of noticeable slowdown in particularly populated areas — the vibrant art style and eye-catching medieval architecture give the monastery a beauty that makes it a pleasure to wonder about it.  Small details such as pegasus knights flying in the sky and messenger owls flitting about between buildings breath life into the campus and lend credence that this is an academy in a fantasy world.

There are a plethora of activities to do while roaming the premises and Three Houses does an admirable job of easing you into each of them. Tasks such as gardening various crops and fishing for the biggest catch not only provide valuable resources but also go towards increasing your professor level which increases your maximum Activity Points you can spend in a day.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Monastery

Meanwhile, sharing meals with students in the dining hall, inviting them out to tea parties, and returning lost items all serve to build bonds between pupils and increase their motivation for further studies. Interacting with them in such ways or even just talking to them on the school grounds also offers insight into their thoughts and feelings on current events in the world, which goes a long way towards developing their character in addition to Fire Emblem’s long-established support conversations. 

As characters spend time together in the monastery and fight together on the battlefield their support levels will rise, granting various bonuses in battle such as increased hit rate and evasion. These supports are accompanied by conversations that flesh out each character’s personality and provide valuable backstories not found in the main story.

In typical Fire Emblem fashion, the cast of Three Houses is unique and distinct with multiple layers of complexity over initial arch-typical natures. Peeling back these layers over the course of the game serves as some of the most satisfying intrinsic rewards it has to offer, with macho, good guy Raphael and self-doubting Marianne being particular standouts in my play session. This is accentuated even more since every single line of dialogue, no matter how minor, is fully voiced, a rarity for JRPG’s. The English acting ranges from good to exceptional, but the Japanese voices are also available for those who prefer it.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Sylvain
Support conversations range from comical, to serious, to heart-warming — but they are always engaging.

It’s a shame the same level of polish can’t be said about the main story, however. The plot is rather straightforward and doesn’t do much to push the boundaries of expectations outside a mix-up here and there. Many scene transitions are nonexistent and jarring and the stilted movements of CG scenes reserved for important moments detract more than they add. That said, the stellar character and world-building that take place within the monastery more than makeup for the lukewarm story-telling and give ample reason to become invested. Not to mention the curiosity of seeing the story from the other houses’ perspectives encourages subsequent playthroughs.

Bonding and interacting with students outside of your class is worthwhile as well as it’s possible to recruit them into your own house. Convincing a student to join your class takes a large amount of effort over a long course of time, making the moment they finally give the “Ok” feel much more earned than recruitment has in past Fire Emblems. This not only gives you another unit to use on the battlefield but also avoids potentially seeing them as an enemy down the line when things aren’t quite so peaceful in Fodlan anymore.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Dining

It’s easy to fall into a routine when going about the monastery in Three Houses. The constant loop of every action taken feeding into accomplishing another is positively addicting. It encourages you to make the most out of each day while also emphasizing the steady march of time. For a game that places such importance on the passage of time, however, it is slightly off-putting how the seasons in the monastery never change from its default bright, sunny day, especially with talk of snow and colder weather abound in later months.

All time spent at school is ultimately in preparation for combat, though, and Three Houses presents some of the finest and most refined form of it the Fire Emblem series has ever seen.

Applying Theory to Practice

The fundamentals of combat in Fire Emblem: Three Houses are the same as all of its predecessors but numerous additions and changes cast it in a whole new light. Encounters take place on grid-based maps and you move each individual character to attack enemies, assist allies, and position them for counter-attacks, among other things. Once all of your units have moved the enemy gets their turn to retaliate and the process repeats.

Before initiating combat a combat forecast appears that tells you the damage each side will inflict, the chance of landing that attack, and the chance of dealing a triple damage critical hit. Utilizing this forecast to calculate risk vs reward of various engagements becomes routine as deaths of characters are permanent when playing in Classic mode, although Casual mode makes its return that brings back lost units after the mission as well. The fight then plays out automatically with characters fluidly moving in unique and organic ways depending on how the battle plays out. While you have no control during these segments, there’s something viscerally satisfying about seeing someone like burly Raphael deftly dodge an attack and roundhouse kick the enemy to the face in retaliation.

Battle

The weapon triangle — a series mainstay that gave rock-paper-scissors qualities to weapon types — has been done away with in Three Houses, requiring players to think beyond simply matching enemies with their direct counters. In its place come Combat Arts, a system that’s been taken from 2017’s Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. These special skills are obtained by gaining proficiency in weapon types through teaching sessions and combat and grant each character different ways to approach combat.

The set of Combat Arts learned are unique to each character. For example, Claude and Bernadetta are both proficient with bows but only the latter learns the far-reaching snipe art “Deadeye,” while only the former learns the blessed imbued “Monster Blast”. This applies to magic as well, with every character learning a different set of spells as they grow more proficient. While there is some overlap in spells and arts learned between characters, they nonetheless make them feel more distinct from one another as opposed to simply using the ones with the best stats, minimizing the problem previous entries have of “dead weight characters”.

Another wrinkle to combat is the addition of battalions and Gambits. Battalions are a unit of generic soldiers that can be assigned to each character to confer various stat bonuses. Each battalion grants the use of their special Gambit, powerful abilities that typically hit multiple enemies in an area, thus weakening their stats and preventing movement for a turn. Support type gambits exist as well, such as letting allies sustain a lethal hit once or making it so they take and deal only one damage for a turn. Not only do Gambits open up new strategic possibilities by introducing a form of crowd control to the series, but they are also pivotal in taking down Three Houses’ new enemy type: Monsters.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Combat
Battalions also add more life to the battlefields by showing more than just your unit and the enemy facing off one-on-one

Monsters have been in Fire Emblem games before, but never in this form. Monsters are gargantuan beasts that take up four squares on the grid, sometimes more. They have multiple health bars to drain, devastating area sweeping attacks, and barriers that diminish damage taken and prevent critical hits. The key to slaying these beasts is to utilize battalion Gambits to attack multiple parts of the monsters at once and systematically whittle down their barriers.

Unlike regular enemy and boss types that can usually be taken down by one reasonably powerful unit, monsters require the brunt of your military force to slay. Contending with both monsters and regular enemies as they barrel towards your army provides for some of the tensest moments in the game that then result in blissful satisfaction for overcoming them; all the more emphasized by Three Houses’ phenomenal soundtrack that amplifies feelings of triumph to remarkable heights.

Map designs, on the other hand, leave something to be desired as many take place in large, open areas where strategy ultimately boils down to careful positioning of units on defensive tiles. Even maps with branching paths feel like little more than an excuse to give your units an opportunity to equally distribute experience gained from combat. The lack of gimmicks and terrain variety leads to missions sometimes blending together, a problem exacerbated by the fact that nearly every victory objective is either “Route the enemy” or “Defeat the commander.” It’s never so dull as to become mind-numbing, but having more variety in the 60-80 hour long campaign would go a long way towards solidifying what is otherwise an incredibly tight combat experience. 

Lessons Learned, Experience Showing

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a grand culmination that takes a deep, introspective look into what makes the series so great and evolving it in meaningful and impactful ways.

The monastery and professor role not only fit right at home in such a character-driven game but also breath fresh life into the school setting that has long been regarded as “the graveyard of creativity.” The main story may not be the most engrossing but never has it been easier to grow intimately attached to such a large and varied cast of characters. Those attachments manifest in battles as a drive to persevere and the various tools the game gives you, old and new, give the power to do so. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is no doubt, the triumphant return to home consoles that fans have been waiting over a decade for and a sterling lesson that for a game series, class is always in session.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Rhea
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Games

Why Does the ‘Control’ Northlight Engine Matter?

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With less than a month to go until the release of Control on Xbox One and Playstation 4, the hype surrounding the game is reaching its peak. We recently called Remedy’s upcoming title “the best game playable at E3 2019” and deemed it the “highlight of our experience at the conference,” but few details have been released about the title since the controversial Electronic Entertainment Expo. Remedy Entertainment, best known for their Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break releases, has a track record of delivering storytelling experiences like no other, but they have an important secret to their recent successes that might aid their upcoming survival horror/action-adventure release. To better understand Control, let’s take a look at its in-game engine, Northlight, and explore why it enables Remedy to craft such gripping narratives.

What is Northlight?

For all of its titles, Remedy Entertainment has relied on the unique strengths of their self-created in-game engines to allow their storytelling experiences to thrive. Many of their previous successes have utilized in-house engines specially designed to deliver cinematic experiences and create games that keep the characters in focus, and Northlight was created to further advance upon their previous technology. Initially built for the Microsoft title Quantum Break, the new engine was created to allow for better interactive narrative experiences that could establish greater depth and realism in a digital world.

According to an interview with writer and creative director Sam Lake, Northlight pushes the envelope by allowing for “Mo-cap with full faces, with surface capture, and 4D scanning, and how to get that into an engine and make it really, really good. It focuses on character lighting, lighting overall, obviously pushing it to the next-gen.” These features all work in tandem to create photorealistic environments and characters that look, sound, and feel real to enthralling players and captivate viewers. In short, Northlight allows Remedy to create Hollywood-quality cinematic experiences within a digital platform.

Control Northlight

Supporting Ray Tracing

A big part of Northlight’s success as an engine is due to its support of ray tracing technology, offering dynamic ambient light that sets the scene and creates engaging landscapes. For those unaware, ray tracing is a modern rendering technique that allows for more realistic shadows and lighting than previous digital rendering software, although often times it is prerendered, slow, and incredibly data-intensive. Thanks to advancements by Nvidia, ray tracing is finally possible to be rendered in real-time inside of in-game engines, making it more accessible to game studios.

Northlight’s game engine pushes the limits by incorporating these advancements into its software, making it possible for players to have the future of in-game lighting, provided that they have the right graphics card. This allows Remedy to truly bring scenes to life within their titles, dynamically lighting environments to create intense emotional moments and the biggest spectacles.

Motion Capture

Although motion capture has been an integral part of narrative video games for a number of years, Northlight uses the Dimensional Imaging’s top of the line 4D technology to capture facial performances and accurately model emotions. According to Dimensional Imaging, this software utilizes “nine standard video cameras” to capture footage “without using markers, makeup or special illumination.” In turn, this allows for every nuance of an actor’s performance to be articulated in the game engine, giving greater realism and deeper emotional experiences.

In addition to this technology, Northlight utilizes traditional motion capture technology to create realistic clones of actor’s bodies. This was most notably seen when Remedy’s motion capture team’s picture of a dog in mo-cap gear went viral.

Control Northlight

Hollywood Quality Picture and Sound

Because of its emphasis on delivering narrative experiences unlike any other in gaming, Northlight’s software has built-in timeline editors that provide greater creative freedom than conventional game engines. By offering the ability to analyze and adjust lighting, physics, and movement in real-time, Northlight ensures that every scene is picture perfect and rooted in realism.

 Similarly, sound is also an integral focus of the built-in editing software in Northlight. According to their site, developers can “freeze and rewind sound, analyze it and even use it to drive visual effects and animations in perfect sync with the soundscapes.”  With audio and visuals working in tandem, Remedy can create a dynamic game environment that looks and feels as real as any conventional narrative on television or film.

Northlight and Control’s Release

With Northlight, Remedy will be able to make the most immersive and story-driven world possible by delivering top of the line graphics and performances, both of which will play a huge role in Control’s success. Unlike Quantum Break, Control will take place outside of the conventional linear style game and work as a Metroidvania style title, making setting the scene and developing a dynamic and photorealistic environment an important part of propelling players through the game world and an integral piece of the experience.

At e3, Control’s featured demo was primarily centered around demonstrating the title’s gunplay and physics -which absolutely blew us away- so combining this positive experience with top-notch acting and cutscenes will surely create one of the better experiences of the year. With all of the unique possibilities offered by Northlight, Respawn is sure to make a massive mark on the industry and encourage other developers to push the envelope of available technology. Look for Control when it releases on PC, Playstation, and Xbox One on August 27th.

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Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.

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