Connect with us
Best SNES Games Best SNES Games

Games

The Top 50 SNES Games (Part One)

You might not believe it, but it’s absolutely true: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or the SNES, for short, is now old enough to have serious regrets about its life, and if you’re old enough to have had one of these wee grey boxes in your living room, then you’re probably even older.

Published

on

You might not believe it, but it’s absolutely true: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or the SNES, for short, is now old enough to have serious regrets about its life, and if you’re old enough to have had one of these wee grey boxes in your living room, then you’re probably even older.

Inspiring stuff right? In all seriousness, though, the SNES is certainly one of the all-time greats in the console department and now that Nintendo will follow up its smash hit NES micro-console with a mini version of the SNES, what better way to celebrate than to list our top 50 SNES games.

We gathered together some of our best and brightest to help us celebrate, and we hope you’ll join us too!

Best SNES Games #50. Super Mario All-Stars

While there’s little argument that the red plumber’s SNES debut, Super Mario World, is certainly his finest moment on the console, this little retro package certainly gives that dinosaur filled classic a run for its money.

While there’s little argument that the red plumber’s SNES debut, Super Mario World, is certainly his finest moment on the console, this little retro package certainly gives that dinosaur filled classic a run for its money. Comprising not only the original classic Super Mario Bros, but also its oddball sequel Super Mario Bros 2, and the untouchable cornerstone of any quality childhood, Super Mario Bros 3. As if these games weren’t enough to justify the price tag, this package also includes the infamous Lost Levels from the original game as well, previously only playable in Japan.

Comprising not only the original classic Super Mario Bros, but also its oddball sequel Super Mario Bros 2, and the untouchable cornerstone of any quality childhood, Super Mario Bros 3. As if these games weren’t enough to justify the price tag, this package also includes the infamous Lost Levels from the original game as well, previously only playable in Japan.

It’s a rather robust quartet and one of the best purchases a parent could make for their wee ones back in the 90s. Literally, dozens of hours of entertainment can be found in these four games, and if you were too young to have experienced them on the NES, then the deal was all the sweeter. (Mike Worby)

Best SNES Games #49. Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon is the original farming sim, with a legacy that goes back all the way to 1996 on the SNES. On paper, the game doesn’t sound very exciting and yet, surprisingly, Natsume’s smash hit managed to make farm simulation fresh and interesting. Working through the seasons planting goods, meeting new characters, attending festivals, finding hidden treasures and getting married all paid off at the very end. It spawned an entire franchise, and some would argue a sub-genre, and it remains a shining example of the RPG genre done right. With all the secrets available in this game, there is more than enough reason to revisit this gem in the present day. If you’re a fan of simulation and RPG elements, this is definitely worth a try! (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #48. Super Star Wars

Following the tradition of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the SNES was home to huge amounts of licensed video games. Unlike its NES predecessor, however, the SNES delivered a fantastic series of Star Wars games that deserves to be counted among the consoles best run and gun platformers. Super Star Wars began the adaptations of the popular films for SNES owners, who were treated to labors of love that brought the world of Star Wars to life (or as well as they could be for a 16-bit system).

The platforming elements themselves were addicting and interspersed with other levels in which the player could control a land speeder or X-wing. But it was the different levels of difficulty that kept people coming back. The hardest levels of Super Star Wars approach Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts territory in terms of frustration, but SNES users were probably already used to masochistic tendencies when picking up a Nintendo controller. Later generations of gamers who grew up on things like Knights of the Old Republic might balk at the Super Star Wars franchise were they to play it now, but all the successful Star Wars games of different genres that came after Super Star Wars owe a debt to its huge popularity. (Sean Colletti)

Best SNES Games #47. Mega Man X3

The Mega Man X series was just the breath of fresh air that the franchise needed after so many similar titles having been released on the NES in such rapid-fire succession, and Mega Man X3 might be the best game the spin-off series ever produced.

In addition to refining the mechanics from the first two Mega Man X titles, X3 also let players step into the boots of X’s badass, plasma-sword wielding partner, Zero. Easily the coolest character in the X series, it was particularly thrilling to play as Zero this time around, even if it was only for a short time.

With a great selection of bosses, carefully hidden upgrades, and fantastic music, Mega Man X3 is one of the best Mega Man games ever released and is still worth replaying even today. (Mike Worby)

Best SNES Games #46. The Death and Return of Superman

Easily one of the biggest cultural moments of the 90s was the death of perhaps the most iconic character in American history, Superman. Though he would eventually be resurrected, this was before the cavalcade of me-too superhero death stories that followed, so at the time it was believable that the Man of Steel could truly be gone for good.

The story of his death and eventual return is retold in the aptly titled brawler, The Death and Return of Superman. The game tells the tale as well as can be expected for any game from the time period, giving ample screen time to all of the Man of Tomorrow’s would-be successors, before making way for the eventual reveal that Superman is alive after all.

It’s a classic tale retold wonderfully well in its new medium, and a whole lot of fun to play. There was nothing quite like being put in control of some of the coolest comic book characters of the 90s during one of the best stories ever told about Superman. The Death and Return of Superman still stand as one of the best brawlers on the SNES, and it isn’t hard to see why. (Mike Worby)

Best SNES Games #45. SimCity

Before The Sims gave us death by swimming pool, SimCity threw $10,000 our way and told us to get building. Released as a launch title for the SNES, SimCity feels different even to this day. Its mood is contemplative. The soundtrack is oddly soothing. Nurturing a city takes time, but the gameplay can be picked up in minutes.

It doesn’t really matter that SimCity starts in 1900 and yet there are nuclear power plants and planes crashing all over the place. The little inconsistencies hardly detract from a game that rejects an in-your-face storytelling experience and instead sits back and gives the player room to ruin or create as they see fit. Plus all those pollution warnings probably did more for environmental awareness in the 90s than the Clinton administration.

The player-as-God scenario isn’t what makes SimCity great. It’s that we actually get time to care. Our tiny palette of icons may be the functional mechanic that allows us to paint our city however we imagine it, but time is our main currency outside of, you know, actual money. Seasons change from winter to spring, and we can take a breather to sit back and admire our city before letting Bowser reduce it to ashes. Moving a cursor around with the D-pad never felt so satisfying.

That doesn’t mean the controls aren’t clunky as hell. And the game’s looping soundtrack, despite being tied into city level and changing as you advance, does sometimes make you want to self-harm.

SimCity is simply too addictive for it to matter. When the intro screen loads and the music plays over a scene of skyscrapers at night, we have to push start.

No other SimCity has come close. (Luke Geraghty)

Best SNES Games #44. Kirby Super Star

Kirby Superstar is one of the best values on the system. Instead of one linear traditional adventure, gamers get to choose from eight different experiences on one cartridge. This is also one of the few instances in which players get the best of both worlds, quantity, and quality. Each game can easily stand on its own and provide plenty of fun and replay value, however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few standouts among the group. Gamers looking for a more traditional Kirby experience will likely have a blast with Spring Breeze or Milky Way Wishes, whereas those looking for a challenge can have a go at The Arena. Gourmet Race is probably the most unique title on the cartridge, as Kirby must race King De-de-de to the end of the stage while collecting as much food as possible. It offers a nice distraction between playing the other games and can become quite addictive when doing the time trial modes.

When Kirby Superstar was released back in 1996, there was nothing else like it at the time. The amount of content in the game put it head and shoulders above the competition, leaving very few players bored. While a superior sequel was released for the DS years later called Kirby Superstar Ultra, the original must still be appreciated for its innovation within the platforming genre that was excelling on the SNES at the time. It’s one of Kirby’s finest and most diverse outings. (Zack Rezak)

Best SNES Games #43. Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

The last of the three installments released in the Super Nintendo’s groundbreaking Super Star Wars series, Super Return of the Jedi promised more of the same great experience offered as its two forerunners, and boy did LucasArts deliver.

Like the previous two outings, Super Return of the Jedi is a 2D platformer in which you take on the Star Wars universe, only this time around the roster of playable characters grew to five (Luke, Chewie, Han, Wicket and Princess Leia, who wears her bounty hunter disguise and Endor forest survival gear at the various points in the game). With its toned-down difficulty, depth and polished presentation, Super Return of the Jedi is considered by many to be the best of the three games in the series. (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #42. Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals

Lufia II, a prequel to the original Lufia, has the incredible distinction of being one of the best RPGs on a console with quite possibly the best library of RPGs ever. While Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III (VI) are appropriately in another tier of gaming altogether, Lufia II is one of the few games that has a legitimate claim to being the best of the rest.

A huge part of its strength comes from being a classic, traditional RPG on the surface but exhibiting non-traditional RPG (at least for the Japanese-developed RPGs that populated the console library) elements in its gameplay. Lufia II has a much greater emphasis on puzzle solving than, say, a Final Fantasy game. It borrows elements from The Legend of Zelda series, incorporating vast dungeons that require as much thinking as they do grinding. There are also several side quests that pad the already sizable main narrative, making Lufia II one of the longer RPG experiences on the console for completionists.

And even though the main story and conflict surrounding Lufia II’s characters aren’t as classic or memorable as many of the other well-written RPGs for the SNES, its ultimately Lufia II’s commitment to gameplay that makes it such a powerhouse. Little tweaks, such as the IP gauge that gives you different abilities to perform based on equipment or Capsule Monsters (a Pokemon-lite kind of monster collecting and leveling system that allows you to bring a buddy into battles), give Lufia II a unique personality that separates itself from so many of its peers.

A much-loved, little-played series in general, Lufia games are hard to come by, making Lufia II an expensive cartridge to pick up (and it is not available on the Virtual Console). DS owners, though, may be able to find a remake, Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals, which is completely revamped into an action-RPG instead of the turn-based system the SNES original uses. In any way it can be experienced, Lufia II is a genuinely must-play RPG. (Sean Colletti)

Best SNES Games #41. R-Type III: The Third Lightning

Nintendo certainly has a storied history of classic shmups. Among the strongest games on the original NES were Life Force, Gradius and The Guardian Legend, each a perfect example of how simultaneously addicting and frustrating the sub-genre of shooters can be at its best. In the case of R-Type III, more of the same goes a long way with the added sound and graphical capabilities of the system.

Like any shmup worth its salt, R-Type III is teeth-grindingly difficult. It is a speedrunner’s kind of game in the sense that memorization is absolutely essential to success. Each of its six stages is huge and has an array of details to new settings and enemies, including memorable and thrilling boss battles. But in the process of beating each level, players will undoubtedly become familiar by way of death after death after death.

This, though, is the kind of challenge that gives R-Type III and other shmups longevity and replayability (there is also a two-player mode, which makes for even more sensory chaos), because there is nothing unfair or cheap about the difficulty level. Unfortunately, the game and series are nowhere to be seen on the Virtual Console, but a watered-down GBA port is available if you can’t find a copy of the SNES cartridge. (Sean Colletti)

Best SNES Games #40. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble 

This third installment was one of the Super Nintendo’s last hurrahs. Released in 1996, it immediately seemed archaic against the new three-dimensional Mario title, released two months before on Nintendo’s next-generation 64-bit machine. It was also the weakest entry in the Donkey Kong Country franchise, marred by the inexcusable introduction of the sluggish, babyish Kiddy Kong, and by needless updates that sacrifice usability for visual splendor, like the lovingly-designed vehicles that awkwardly transport players between worlds.

Nevertheless, Donkey Kong Country 3 features on this list because the franchises core values remain intact: fast-paced gameplay, sublime graphics, bountiful secrets, varied level design, and spectacular music. Level in and level out, composers David Wise and Eveline Fischer (who would go on to provide Joanna Dark’s voice) produce melancholy, funky, and industrial sounds to accompany the player’s quest. More than other platforming series, Donkey Kong Country always placed an accent on atmosphere, which has allowed the series to remain fresh and relevant in this age of arty, side-scrolling, indie platformers. (Guido Pellegrini)

Best SNES Games #39. Illusion of Gaia

Genre(s) Action RPG Illusion of Gaia was something of a spiritual sequel to Soul Blazer, with very loosely linked gameplay and story elements. Named Illusion of Time in Europe, the game put you in command of Will, a young adventurer with latent psychic abilities and the power to morph himself into the fully-grown adult body of a knight and also the alien-like lifeform named Shadow. Saving the world required using each version of the hero at the appropriate time. As an action-RPG, Illusion of Gaia fails in the RPG section but shines well in its action. Although not as close to perfection as its predecessor, it still manages to be one of the most entertaining action RPGs available on the SNES, and a fitting second game in a trilogy. (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #38. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

Unlike the 8-bit generation, there were only a few games released on the SNES that became infamous for their vicious and unrelenting difficulty – Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts might be the hardest of the bunch. This SNES sequel to the NES rage-inducing Ghosts ‘N Goblins was just as likely to have players throwing their controllers across the room. On the surface, the game looks like any other side-scrolling platformer, but tackling the game’s challenging and unrelenting levels is no easy feat. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is a hard game to beat and I do mean hard, but that is also why Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is such a great game. It’s challenging design philosophy, atmosphere and story helped pave the way for contemporary classics such as Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and mastering Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts gave an unparalleled sense of accomplishment. For those of you have finished the game, you most likely agree this should be higher up on our list.  (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #37. Zombies Ate My Neighbors

This run and gun game developed by LucasArts and originally published by Konami for the Super NES wasn’t exactly a commercial success, but it was well received and praised for its graphical style, warped humor, and deep gameplay. Back when local couch multiplayer was the lifeblood that kept games forever replayable, Zombies Ate My Neighbors offered kids countless hours of ridiculous non-stop fun while navigating through the game’s 48 main levels and 7 bonus levels in order to rescue the titular neighbors from monsters often seen in horror movies.

Aiding the protagonists Zeke and Julie are a variety of weapons such as tomatoes, weed whackers, bazookas, holy crucifixes and more, along with various power-ups that can be used to battle the numerous enemies scattered throughout. Meanwhile, assorted elements and aspects of popular horror movies are referenced in the game with some of its more violent content being censored in various territories such as Europe and Australia, where it is known only as Zombies. This love letter to B-grade horror films is a rare gem and a cult classic that absolutely deserves all of its praise. (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #36. Breath of Fire II

Unlike the original Breath of Fire, the SNES sequel in Capcom’s overlooked RPG series is an in-house production (Square Soft, a god amongst third parties at the time, helped localize the first game). The result is a love letter of a project that is a little rough around the edges. Though similar to its predecessor, it is ultimately a better game than Breath of Fire and a fine addition to the SNES library of RPGs that would set the series on a course for true greatness.

Different versions of the characters Ryu and Nina return in Breath of Fire II and would become series staples. The rest of the cast is full of lively personalities and poignant archetypes that add to a wider scope and much-improved storyline of redemption. In the same way that the PlayStation’s Suikoden II is essentially the same game as Suikoden—just a lot better—Breath of Fire II builds on every layer of the foundation built by Breath of Fire (the only exception possibly being that the music lacks some of the charm).

Capcom’s most successful traditional RPG series, Breath of Fire would make the jump to the Sony consoles and produce three more main series games. And while the third and fourth installments are the most rich experiences overall, the first two make up an of-the-era pair that is deeply nostalgic and indicative of how simplicity of design and vision isn’t necessarily a drawback if tone and atmosphere are done right. Both games are available in Game Boy Advance ports and on the Wii U Virtual Console. (Sean Colletti)

Best SNES Games #35. Final Fight

Final Fight — which was originally titled Street Fighter ’89 but had its name changed just before release — was a massive arcade hit across the globe and given Capcom’s close relationship with Nintendo, it became a launch exclusive for Nintendo’s 16-bit console. However, what fans got wasn’t all that it was hyped up to be. Final Fight is one of the earliest titles for the system, and due to the hardware limitations of the Super Nintendo, Capcom was forced to make some changes from the port of the original 1989 arcade game. The removal of co-op, for example, eliminated one of the most appealing features present in most beat ’em ups and Nintendo’s censorship policies ultimately replaced several characters including the iconic boss, Rolento.

Despite all of this, many of the core factors that make Final Fight so appealing are still intact, and the SNES version helped define what 16-bit home console brawlers would be. Capcom’s classic does not stand the test of time but it was evolutionary, taking the beat-’em-up structure of games like Double Dragon to the next level. And for that, it deserves a spot on our list! (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #34. Earthworm Jim 2

The SNES certainly had its fair share of weird titles, however, few can come close to EarthWorm Jim 2 when it comes to strangeness. Jim’s second outing is vastly different from his first. What was once a consistent side-scrolling shooter is now a varied assortment of odd genres? Each level shakes up the gameplay in some pretty interesting ways, so much so that it would be hard to tell they were all part of the same game. In fact, some of these stage descriptions sound more like a drug trip than an actual video game level. One stage has Jim disguise himself as a blind cave salamander in order to swim through a series of intestines. At the end of the stage, the player is thrown into a game show that could result in the loss of the mealworms they collected throughout the stage. Another has Jim dodging falling grandmas while riding a stair-lift. Normal stuff.

What makes this title special is how the unique gameplay structure complements the game’s personality. Every level is so odd and different from the last; it’s impossible to tell what’s coming next. A funky synth-filled soundtrack and beautiful environments bring the whole package together to form one of the strangest yet most fun titles on the SNES. As Jim would say, it’s GROOVY! (Zack Rezak)

Best SNES Games #33. Pilot Wings

One of only three different launch titles available to own alongside your newly-purchased SNES back in 1991, Pilotwings was a basically a tech demo for the Super NES’ Mode 7 that created the illusion of depth by taking flat surfaces and presenting them from any angle. But as much as it was a graphical showcase, it was surprisingly enjoyable as well.

Pilotwings was an odd title and while it may not be fondly remembered by most, those who chose to delve deep into its depths swear by how great it is. Regardless of how you feel about the game, it spawned a new Nintendo franchise and gave gamers a glimpse of what would later come with the N64. (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #32. Earthworm Jim

Earthworm Jim is a run and gun 2D platformer that stars Jim, an earthworm who obtains an ultra-high-tech-indestructible robotic suite to defeat his foes. It’s up to Jim to save the princess from the likes of Psy-Crow, Professor Monkey-for-a-Head, Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed and the final boss, Slug-for-a-Butt.

At the time of its release, Earthworm Jim was praised for its unique cartoon style animation, refined gameplay, mind-bending soundtrack, and strange characters. They honestly, rarely make games like this anymore, and though subsequent generations have tried to revive the series, it has never been met with success. Earthworm Jim is part of the grand tradition of balls-to-the-wall games in the vein of Psychonauts and Monkey Island and comes highly recommended for those who prefer a unique brand of oddball charm. (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #31. Mega Man X

Following up the critical and commercial success of Mega Man X was no small task, but Mega Man X2 did an admirable job. The plot follows the android protagonist, X, who has saved humanity only six months prior. Now a trio of Mavericks calling themselves the X-Hunters have arisen, intent on destroying X by luring him with body parts of his colleague Zero, who sacrificed himself during the conflict with Sigma in the first X game.

This second installment gives the android protagonist X, five new cyborg sub-bosses to battle, and seventeen bosses, both new and old, including Bubble Crab, Crystal Snail, Wheel Gator, and Overdrive Ostrich. Just like the games before it, Mega Man X2 doesn’t really do much in the way of innovation. It features much of the same action-platforming elements dating back to the original Mega Man series. While it isn’t groundbreaking in any way, X2 comes highly recommended to anybody that enjoys the previous title. (Ricky D)

Best SNES Games #30. Mario Paint

In 1993, according to the US Census Bureau, only 31.9 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 17 had access to a computer at home, while 60.6 used one at school. Now that we’re all surrounded by monitors and devices, it can be difficult to imagine a time when most youngsters were not born into a menagerie of desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and e-readers. As William Gibson once said: “It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future.”

Mario Paint, released in 1992, was a bizarre concoction and, for many children, this writer included, an introduction to personal computer literacy. A spruced up Microsoft Paint, it came with a mouse and a pad, which made the title as expensive as it was irresistibly novel. Along with basic music generation and animation tools, to produce short and crude videos, it also offered a ridiculous fly-swatting mini-game, a throwback to simple arcade gameplay before retro gaming turned into a millennial cliché.

This kind of compartmentalized experience was not common on the Super Nintendo. There was usually the one game included in the cartridge, and that was it. Games within games would be more prevalent in later years. But Mario Paint incorporated the windowed logic of an operating system and allowed users to engage in different kinds of activities, save their work, and combine it.

This merging of the personal computer and console interfaces anticipated the gaming future, when consoles would behave like low-end, web-ready desktops with home screens, as comfortable with YouTube videos as with The Last of Us. And it also reflected the immediate past, when a personal computer like the Commodore 64 could compete with consoles (and is now often, albeit erroneously, equated with them); and the Nintendo Entertainment System, even as it popularized the concept of simplified, kid-friendly, plug-in-and-play gaming, was compatible with specialized modems, disk systems, and the Family BASIC, a cartridge-and-keyboard bundle for game programming. Mario Paint, then, taught many children an obvious but easily forgotten fact: consoles are computers, too.  (Guido Pellegrini)

Best SNES Games #29. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

Though not as influential as its predecessor, this sequel is nevertheless a summation of everything that is enjoyable and exciting about the franchise. Like its prequel, it eschews the impossible and abstract architecture of other platformers, like Mario and Sonic, and instead settles for, not precisely real-world locations, but at least recognizable environments–twisted versions of jungles and factories, frozen mountains and carnival fun-houses, distorted visions of places we might conceivably visit in real life (save for some notable, honeycombed exceptions).

Diddy’s Kong Quest places the lumbering Donkey Kong in an uncharacteristic Princess Peach role: as the captured person (well, primate) of interest, who must be rescued from the villain. In his absence, Diddy Kong becomes the protagonist, while his girlfriend – the lithe, ponytail-twirling, hovering Dixie Kong – tags along as his partner. Both are quick and nimble, and together, they make this into the most frantic, agile installment of Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo. (Guido Pellegrini)

Best SNES Games #28. 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’s 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)

Best SNES Games #27. NBA JAM

NBA Jam was an absolute blast and perhaps the game I played the most as a young teen. It tore up the arcades from the day Midway released it, and drained every quarter from my wallet.

So when it was finally announced for release on Nintendo’s home console, I started saving my quarters instead, in order to ensure I had enough money to pick it up the day it came out. Whereas nowadays, sports games insist on realism, Midway delivered a frantic and oftentimes gravity-defying sports experience that gave us countless hours of fast-paced basketball action.

Reduced to two-on-two match-ups and featuring a super-powered roster (not to mention tons of unlockable characters), NBA Jam was the number one jam in my household. (Ricky D)

Demon's Crest Of the many incredible platformers for the SNES, Demon’s Crest remains one of the most underrated an overlooked (even if more and more retrospectives have been kind to it, it deserves to be considered alongside the Mega Man X, Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World franchises). The third installment in the Gargoyle’s Quest series that began on the Game Boy, Demon’s Crest is also—unfortunately—the final game in the Ghosts ’n Goblins spin-off trilogy that follows Firebrand, that frustratingly hard-to-hit enemy from the main series. While game mechanics and a balance between challenge and reward typically bolster a platformer like this into ranks of the elite, Demon’s Crest is so memorable for its tone and atmosphere. Like Super Castlevania IV and Super Metroid, Demon’s Crest is a moody piece with a dark color palette that is as immersive as many of the great RPGs for the console without the benefit of a carefully-constructed story. And although it is less an RPG-hybrid that the original Gargoyle’s Quest, its free-roam overworld and Crest scheme, which allows you to gain and use different abilities to complete the platforming challenges, separate the game from more streamlined platformers, such as the aforementioned Donkey Kong Country games. A relatively short game to complete, Demon’s Crest remains immensely replayable because of its ability to give the gamer such an engrossing experience, helped by yet another incredible OST (this is very much a common thread of the SNES greats). At a time when it seemed liked Capcom could do no wrong, Demon’s Crest is an example of true creativity, crafting a whole world around a throwaway enemy from a completely different series and delivering the third part of one of the most underrated series of all time.

Best SNES Games #26. Demon’s Crest

Of the many incredible platformers for the SNES, Demon’s Crest remains one of the most underrated an overlooked (even if more and more retrospectives have been kind to it, it deserves to be considered alongside the Mega Man X, Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World franchises). The third installment in the Gargoyle’s Quest series that began on the Game Boy, Demon’s Crest is also—unfortunately—the final game in the Ghosts ’n Goblins spin-off trilogy that follows Firebrand, that frustratingly hard-to-hit enemy from the main series.

While game mechanics and a balance between challenge and reward typically bolster a platformer like this into ranks of the elite, Demon’s Crest is so memorable for its tone and atmosphere. Like Super Castlevania IV and Super Metroid, Demon’s Crest is a moody piece with a dark color palette that is as immersive as many of the great RPGs for the console without the benefit of a carefully-constructed story. And although it is less an RPG-hybrid that the original Gargoyle’s Quest, its free-roam overworld and Crest scheme, which allows you to gain and use different abilities to complete the platforming challenges, separate the game from more streamlined platformers, such as the aforementioned Donkey Kong Country games.

A relatively short game to complete, Demon’s Crest remains immensely replayable because of its ability to give the gamer such an engrossing experience, helped by yet another incredible OST (this is very much a common thread of the SNES greats). At a time when it seemed like Capcom could do no wrong, Demon’s Crest is an example of true creativity, crafting a whole world around a throwaway enemy from a completely different series and delivering the third part of one of the most underrated series of all time. (Sean Colletti)

TOP 25

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.

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Games

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

25 Years later…

Published

on

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

Continue Reading

Games

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.

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘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.

Published

on

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
Continue Reading

Games

Why Does the ‘Control’ Northlight Engine Matter?

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading
Freelance Film Writers

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.

Contact us: Editor@GoombaStomp.com

Advertisement

Trending

44 Shares
Share
Tweet
Reddit
Pin