Category Archives: Game Reviews

Angry Birds

Mobile gaming has been a video game revolution. These kinds of games are polarizing in addition to being popular. Some see them as a healthy, simple, cheap alternative. Others dismiss them as lesser gaming.

Me? I do think these games are very simple. What’s wrong with that? Simple can work in a basic, primal way. Like why Whack-A-Mole was so popular back in the arcade era. Besides, it’s been so many years since pure gamers first raised fears that these kinds of games would destroy the so-called “hardcore” games. Hasn’t happened. Of course, similar fears were raised about the Wii and PS1 when they were on the market. No doubt some are saying this about the Switch.

One of the pioneers is Angry Birds. Is it the classic that the pioneer status implies? Despite being kind of polarizing, basically yes.

Plot: 1 out of 10

OK, this is definitely the weak link. Angry Birds has no plot. I don’t mean that the story is shallow or bad. I mean that it doesn’t exist. All that seems to be going on is enraged birds flying head-first at disembodied pigs.

The pigheads play fort.

By the way, you’d think the popularity of this game and many another plot-light games (Pac-ManSonic the HedgehogStreet Fighter, ect.) would give pause to those who suggest that those with an irrational hatred for video games have a point by citing the shortage of great game plots. ‘Cause it’s the plotless games that often end up penetrating the mainstream. I know some think I’m being an apologist and “standing in the way of progress,” but I just got done pointing out that it’s the die-hard gamers who least like this type of game by far! What other conclusion can you draw?

Graphics: 9 out of 10

OK, that might seem kind. But this isn’t a console game. It’s a game intended to be played on a phone. Cartoonish violence when the birds you launch at pigs and their surrounding protective structures is extremely satisfying, as are the backgrounds.

Sound: 8 out of 10

Sounds and songs fit the cartoony but PG atmosphere. They do much to capture a struggle for survival between the birds and pigs, even without a real story.

Ready… aim…

Gameplay: 8 out of 10

The way the controls work is you using the touch screen to launch the birds with a slingshot at the pigs. Oftentimes, they’re using what seem to be abandoned structures to protect themselves. You need to either get rid of their protection or better yet, cause these structures to collapse and take the pigs down with them. You lose if you run out of birds with still at least one pig left alive.

What’s their cooling secret that keeps ice cold outdoors?

Getting back to the point I was making, this is simple but fun stuff. You can get a kick out of destroying pigs and structures. That makes this game a great experience. Could use a tad more variety, but alas…

Challenge: 10 out of 10

Starts out easy but gradually becomes quite difficult. This is the perfect range of difficulty, the perfect learning curve.

“BANZAI!!!”

Overall: 9 out of 10

Lack of plot aside, this is possibly one of the most entertaining games ever. It may not be hardcore, but it sure is fun!

Super Mario Land


The Game Boy. You should’ve been on this blog years ago.

Or maybe it’s that Final Fantasy XV is taking awhile to be completed, so I’m reviewing another retro game in the meantime. Take your pick.

Anyway, when Nintendo decided to expand its empire into the realm of handheld gaming, the pack-in (remember when a console came with a game free of charge) was actually not a Mario game but Tetris. However, Super Mario Land was still an important release for the Game Boy’s first year on the market simply by association with the Mario franchise. Alas, it doesn’t begin to hold up today. Even factoring in the release date and what handheld gaming was like back then, it’s very bland.

Plot: 4 out of 10

This is the rare post-Donkey Kong game in this franchise for the leading female to not be Princess Peach but Daisy, the (what else) Princess of a country called Sarasaland (I often mistook it for “Sarasalad” as a child, which would’ve been a lot funnier). An alien named Tatanga kidnaps Daisy and hypnotizes all the people of Sarasalad. Mario arrives to save the day!

 

A Decoy. Tatanga you magnificent bastard!

So basically, it’s the same story, but with a different supporting cast. So… what was the point of these new people? It should be noted that Daisy has only appeared in spin-offs since and Tatanga has never shown up again, period.

Graphics: 5 out of 10

I get it. This was an early game boy game. That’s a system that couldn’t do colors and is said to have been lambasted by the consumer magazines because of the lack of color compared to the competing Atari Lynx and later, the Sega Game Gear. Just ignore that the Game Boy’s much longer battery life enabled it to overwhelm all competitors despite a lack of power.

Hills created by pairs of lines. Ingenious.

There’s still no excuse for the poor shades of black in white on some characters leaving them looking less authentic. Not everything is drawn badly, though. It’s a mixed bag.

Sound: 6 out of 10

Mostly pedestrian, unmemorable music and sounds. The bosses do yelp out authentic squeals of pain when they are hit, though. That’s pretty impressive for this system.

Yep, it’s the bridge battle from SMB but with a different-looking boss.

Gameplay: 4 out of 10

Actually, the gameplay isn’t literally below average. The classic Super Mario Bros. controls and types of levels are recreated here. Some of the enemies are different and in place of the fireballs is a Super Ball, which is unfortunately a bit harder to use effectively. But the big issue is that this style of play is for a game that went out of date very quickly. Floaty jumps that don’t allow much control once your well above ground did not exactly have a long shelf life, for instance. Neither did disallowing backtracking.

You might think switching to the scrolling shooter genre for a couple levels would be worth a 5, but you’d be wrong. This was a pretty pedestrian, dying genre even in 1989.

Challenge: 5 out of 10

The difficulty isn’t particularly low or unbalanced, but the game lasts only half as long as the original SMB. This pads the point I’ve been making that this is a very dumbed-down version of another game. Say what you will. The new Super Mario Run on your phone is longer and more unique despite disappointing some, and it costs a fraction of what SML originally did.

So Mario CAN drive vehicles as opposed to running and jumping.

Overall: 4 out of 10

If a handheld Mario game comparable in any way to Super Mario Land (the far superior sequel is another story) were to come out now, it would be hated! But in 1989, when short, wire-framey, quick to “burn out” Tiger handhelds, were the standard of the on-the-go video game experience, SML was good enough. Today, though, it’s just not fun to play. It’s not bad, it’s just lifeless, boring, and definitely not “Super!”

Super Mario RPG

Before Paper Mario and the other occasional Mario RPGs like Mario and Luigi: Dream TeamSuper Mario RPG was the first attempt at putting the short, fat plumber into this genre. How did it fare? Well, as a Mario game that furthered the story, it worked well, being actually the first of this series in awhile (Donkey Kong Country having replaced the usual second one two years before) to really further the Super Mario series. It’s got a good story, colorful enemies, and of course, lots of jumping.

It also works as an RPG… but understand that there’s some incorporation of action into it. Not a huge amount of action, but those who play just RPGs because they can’t get comfortable enough with the controller, might find this game to take a little getting used to.

Plot: 8 out of 10

After the shortest rescue of Princess Peach ever, she, Mario, and Bowser are separated as a result of by an attack on Bowser’s castle. It’s been taken over by a group called The Smithy Gang. These baddies prove to be even more dangerous than Bowser was, so upon discovering each other, Mario and Bowser become fri… enemies of enemies. Peach, a star warrior named Geno, and a “tadpole” who looks more like a marshmallow kid named Mallow also join.

But what stands out to me is Bowser having to side with Mario. For the time being, anyway. Future games prove that this changed nothing between them.

I see greed is as much a problem for the mushroom people as it is for humans.

Still, I can’t praise the story too much because this began the de-emphasis of Luigi. While Nintendo’s gotten much better about using him as of late, there was a time that Mario’s brother was forgotten. It started with this game.

Graphics: 10 out of 10

Simply put, this is the best-looking game on the Super Nintendo. A very successful attempt at a 3D atmosphere is made here. This is really the first time Mario and his supporting cast look as as realistic as they do in the promo art.

Sound: 9 out of 10

Squaresoft (now Square Enix) was once known for having the best music in video games. That probably never changed, but its godawful voice actors tainted that until the recent Final Fantasy XV. The music and environmental sounds here are very, very good. Square’s composers knew they were creating a soundtrack for a more cartoonish, humorous game than Final Fantasy and the music appropriately reflects that.

Bowser AND his ghosts as allies! How can you lose?

Gameplay: 8 out of 10

It’s not just generic RPG stuff, though generic RPG stuff is in the game. Walk around, talk to people, get attacked outside of town, fight with weapons, items, and magic).

What stands out is that hey actually incorporate Mario’s jump into this game. You can jump around to get to higher perches and travel on moving platforms.

Walking on clouds also stands out.

Another bit of action put into the RPG genre is Timed Hits. You’re supposed to Push A right before a characters hits or is hit. the magic equivalent of this varies from spell to spell, but don’t worry. the spells that require something unusual for maximum impact tell you.

It’s nothing super-tricky, but again, these two twists can be a new thing for fans of this genre to adapt to.

Challenge: 9 out of 10

The biggest criticism of this game is that it’s too easy. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the difficulty is underrated. It’s not particularly brutal, but the bosses can be quite a challenge if you don’t level up a lot. Additionally, this game has mini-games, perhaps a precursor to today’s sidequests, that make things more fun.

BB pretty much typed my caption for me.

Overall: 9 out of 10

It may not be for everyone, but Super Mario RPG is a true classic in my opinion! Just be sure to expect to have to handle the controller.

Batman: the Telltale Series Episode 3: New World Order

After the good but not great Children of Arkham, the third episode of Batman: the Telltale Series takes a turn for the even better. It has shocking bleak plot twists that make for compelling viewing and playing.

With Harvey Dent the new Mayor of Gotham, he makes stopping the Children of Arkham the first priority. After an early rescue mission, Batman investigates the Children. This investigation is eventually sidetracked by romantic interludes with Catwoman and the pressures being Mayor is putting on Harvey awakening long-suppressed psychological problems of his.

Meanwhile, the controversies surrounding what Bruce Wayne’s father did so long ago are coming to a head. Wayne Enterprises’ board of directors is so suspicious of Bruce that the latter’s resignation is demanded. Bruce winds up not liking who the new head of the company is one bit.

Public humiliations make for dark stories.

This is a great story! A little too over the top in its bleakness at times, but still great. The player is enticed to keep playing to see how things turn out, what with all the suspense and whatnot!

The only issue is Harvey’s mental breakdown. Anyone who’s seen any other version of the character knows it has to happen, but to say it happens quickly is an understatement. It would have been better if some signs in previous episodes of it has surfaced. Instead, it’s just the pressures of running a city alone that force it. Not that this isn’t possible, It just somehow feels… wrong.

But things work well in the ending. It’s a surprising, dramatic finish that heads into the fourth episode with a bang!

Not unlike the bang of being slammed head-first into concrete!

This was a short review because there’s only so much I can say without including excessive spoilers. And New World Order relies on surprising plot twists. Just know that this is a great continuation of Batman: the Telltale Series.

Overall: 8 out of 10

NCAA Football 12

What happened to this series? Oh right, the players got wind of the fact that EA was using their likenesses in these games to profit without giving them any credit. The case is still in the courts. Not that the students aren’t totally in the right, but this has disappointed many because it means that Madden’s little brother is in the day care center for now.

Anyhoo, before the eventual release of another of these games (whether it’s next year or in five years), I think I’ll review one of last of them. While it does have the college football feel, it’s ultimately sunk by a number of flaws. Every problem Madden gets criticized for (grating load times, ridiculously dumb Computer-controlled teammates, etc.) are even worse here.

Not what this Alabama fan likes to see.

Plot: N/A

Graphics: 3 out of 10

The models and stadium landscapes don’t look so good. Un-detailed and unsophisticated, they look outdated even for a late PS3/X360 era title.

All this would merit a 6, except that the load times are a nightmare. I’m more patient with them than the average gamer, but even bringing the save file for your fictional scholarship or coaching career takes awhile. The Maddens of the original Playstation didn’t take this much time loading, and they couldn’t even do convincing people in the stands!

Sound: 7 out of 10

Commentary’s reasonably good. I also like the loud “smack” sounds that happen after a tackle. Very satisfying.

When you drop a pass on third down… you really drop the ball.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

One thing to note: if you think it’s easy to score touchdowns in Madden, think again. Long runs and deep balls are not hard in the NCAA Football series. This is true to real life. Because of the simplicity and fast pace of college schemes, making it physically harder on defenses and easier for quarterbacks to figure out, 80-90 cumulative points in a close game is quite common. So it makes sense that scoring can come quick and easy here. Remember, though, that the opposition will find it just as easy to score on you.

Other than that, this is Madden with a smaller playbook. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You have less options, but you’re unlikely to be overwhelmed by these options.

Three plays. Decisions, decisions…

The one issue is starting a career as a player instead of a coach is a chore. Your computer-controlled teammates are absolutely horrible. Quarterbacks throw picks and ignore open guys, receivers don’t honestly fight for the ball, defensive backs blow coverages, ect. This is a problem with Madden, but it’s a much bigger problem here.

Challenge: 4 out of 10

To be true to life, playing a career against Computer opponents can’t help but be unbalanced in its difficulty. This is because there is a huge gap in college football parity. You see, schools are not equal in how prestigious they are and how much money they spend on the football program.

In game terms, there are opponents that are just too easy. Others are modestly challenging.

10-0 Florida in the first quarter is the Georgia-Florida rivalry, all right.

Overall: 5 out of 10

I’m sorry, but this series is way overrated. Even if you’re a college football fan (as I am), these games aren’t great. If the NCAA Football series comes back after EA resolves its legal dispute, there are definite improvements to be made.

Super Mario Kart

Although Super Mario Kart was the beginning of a series that would eventually lead to Mario Kart 8, I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, nuck FASCAR! On the other, this is a really good game to play. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters. It’s the kind of quality game that a company that was badly losing the sales wars to Sega at the time needed.

Plot: 8 out of 10

Despite the use of the Mario license, this is a racing game at its core. Still, they do appropriately incorporate elements of the games have have the playable racers react to certain situations in character. So I’ll give this high marks despite the lack of much of a real plot. Also, this is the first of these spin-offs to allow those of us morally conflicted enough to pick a bad guy to do so.

Myself included.

Graphics: 8 out of 10

Not the best-looking of games, but still visually solid. Nothing is all that flashy or photo-realistic. However, it does have that “Mario” look about it. And in the pre-voice era everyone acting perfectly in character falls on graphics.

Sound: 6 out of 10

OK, this game doesn’t sound as well as it looks. The sequels are a different story, but the songs in this game sound like uninspired filler.

I always found making the cloud guy the ref to be funny.

I should note that a lot of racers half-ass it here. The idea is that because you need to focus on driving, good sound only distracts. I disagree. If you take this concept to its logical conclusion, I guess no game of any genre that requires focus and/or skill should have good music, voices, or environmental sounds.

Gameplay: 9 out of 10

There are eight racers to choose from: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Jr., Toad, and Koopa Troopa. They have varying strengths and weaknesses. For instances, Toad is slow but handles well, while Bowser is slow to accelerate and corners badly, but is the fastest of them all once he gets going.

Who believes that go-karts could handle this kind of dirt road?

The controls work very well. To shake things up, you can run over “?” tiles to get an item. Many of these items are weapons out of the main Mario games that are designed to momentarily stop an opponent. Weapons are even the focal point of the Battle Mode in which each player’s racer gets three hits before losing. As I recall, this was the most fun mode to play with a friend because of its intensity. Just remember: keep it civil.

Challenge: 10 out of 10

This game has the perfect range of difficulty: from very easy to very hard. You start with the 50cc and 100cc difficulties and Mushroom, Flower, and Star Cup tracks available. The much harder Special Cup becomes available after you get the gold trophy against the computer on all other tracks in 100cc. The 150cc difficulty is unlocked by getting the gold on all 100cc tracks. This is clearly meant to slowly warm you up.

These ghosts are a lot less scary then they would be if they attacked. This issue would be cleared up in later games.

Mushroom Cup on 50cc is easy as pie, but the difficulty gradually ratchets up after that. I still can’t do much in the Special Cup in 150cc. Someday…

Overall: 8 out of 10

A bit overrated in the SNES library, but quite playable and the beginning of a big series. Once you look beyond the obvious cash-in on the Mario franchise, you have a lot of fun playing this one. It’s still totally a cash-in, though.

NHL 17

nhl17titleSo what’s new in EA’s latest hockey game? Well, it seems that after the backlash over features being cut out of the 15 version (full disclosure: I missed 16), they put at least some of those features back in. Shootout mode is back, along with other stuff.

Other than that, it’s NHL as usual.

Plot: N/A

Graphics: 9 out of 10

These are among the best-looking games on the consoles (of course, so is NBA 2K, though not Madden). Faces are fantastic, as are stadiums and uniforms. Everything about this visual presentation is just right.

nhl17a

Comic book hockey.

Sound: 5 out of 10

Unlike in some other recent NHL games, there are no good intro and menu songs in this one. The theme song of nationally syndicated NHL games is recreated well here, but even that is compromised by Mike Emrick’s inferior, half-hearted commentary. He’s not just phoning it in for these games, either. He sucks at calling the real games as well.

nhl17b

There’s French writings in Canada? Learn something new every day.

Gameplay: 9 out of 10

The controls handle extremely well. They are extremely smooth and fluid. Becoming a hockey player in this game works just fine.

Also, it seems easier to trigger fights than in previous installments of the series.

nhl17c

They got the slogans right, I’ll give them that.

The only problem is that seasons in this game are still too long. Playing an entire career is ridiculously time-consuming because there are so many games to play before the playoffs (admittedly, that is true to real life).

Challenge: 7 out of 10

Goalies on both sides aren’t very good, but computer opponents do have great formations that make for high-scoring, modestly challenging, fun games.

Why protective but vision-hindering cage masks have their drawbacks.

Why protective but vision-hindering cage masks have their drawbacks.

Overall: 8 out of 10

I would recommend this title. As a hockey simulation, it hits the nail on the head. As a pure video game, it’s an exciting, balls to the wall experience.