Some GOATs

I’ve started playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on the Nintendo Switch. As this is Skyrim‘s first appearance on a Nintendo platform, this is my first time playing Skyrim. I don’t know if you guys have heard, but Skyrim is an amazing game. Holy shnikes.

I’m going to be writing a lot more about Skyrim in future posts. I’m only twenty hours into my first-ever playthrough (maybe more; time moves differently in Skyrim) and I’m already planning for not just my NEXT playthrough, but for my next THREE playthroughs.

Playing Skyrim has gotten me thinking on the topic of Greatest Games of All-Time. Is Skyrim on the list of Greatest Games of All-Time? Is Skyrim the greatest RPG of all time? Can anyone objectively make the case one way or the other for such a claim?

No. No they cannot. So I’m going to do it subjectively, instead, across a bunch of different genres and platforms. A note: this is not a definitive list of games. Mostly these are games I’ve played, so lots of Nintendo games appear on this list… though I’ll willingly put a game I never played on this list if I think it’s the definitively the greatest game in its genre. I should point out, though, that this is also not a definitive list of genres. In fact, I’m more than admitting to making up some of my own genres. And finally: if a genre seems to be missing, I either didn’t think of it or, more likely, don’t have a strong feeling on any one specific game being the GOAT in that particular genre. And finally finally: I’m painting with a very broad brush.

So don’t take this too seriously. Lord knows I didn’t. (Also: this may not be serious, BUT IT’S RIGHT. <– don’t take that seriously, either.)

The Obvious GOATs

Simulation: The Sims – I’ve never played The Sims. I was always afraid that if I started, I’d never stop. Still: it’s the only choice in this category, obviously.

MMORPG: World of Warcraft – I’ve never played World of Warcraft. I was always afraid that if I started, I’d never stop. Still: it’s the only choice in this category, obviously.

2D Puzzle: Tetris – How many puzzle games since the Russian industry-buster are just riffs on Tetris, anyway?

Sandbox: Minecraft – There doesn’t even need to be a conversation here. There is no competition. Next question.

Fighting: Street Fighter 2 – I was going to do two separate fighting game categories, 2D and 3D. But Street Fighter 2, in all of its forms, is the single greatest fighting game of all time. This pains me to say as one who personally prefers Smash Bros. as a franchise. But it’s the truth. In the fighting genre, there’s Street Fighter 2, and then there’s everything else.

The Not-As-Obvious GOATs

3D Platforming Game: Super Mario Odyssey – Yes, I know it’s brand new. It doesn’t meant that it’s NOT the greatest 3D platformer of all time. I’m of the mind that 3D Mario platformers stand alone as the nominees in this category, and the broadly applicable “Cap”-ture mechanic of Super Mario Odyssey (which results in dozens of platforming styles being included in one game), not to mention the giant playground of each level and the 999 hidden moons to find, puts SMO above Galaxy and 64.

2D Action-Adventure: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the PastZelda games set the standard for the action-adventuring genre, and A Link to the Past set the Zelda template that would be followed for twenty years, both in 2D and in 3D. Some revisionist historians will tell you Link’s Awakening or Minish Cap are superior games, but those people would be wrong. Shout-out to Super Metroid, which almost took this spot instead.

3D Action-Adventure: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Is it the size of the world? Is it the gorgeous art design? Is it the mobility of this game’s version of Link? Is it the dirt bike? Well, yes. All of these things help… but what truly places Breath of the Wild in this spot over, say, Horizon: Zero Dawn or Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed or Tomb Raider or any number of amazing games, is the physics system. Stop time and power up environmental objects with kinetic energy, or swing metallic objects with magnetic powers and use them to conduct electricity, or pay attention to the curvature of the hill you’re on to suss out which direction your bomb will roll in, or use ice blocks to change the path of a falling boulder or lift up a rusted old gate. Breath of the Wild asks you to think about and then manipulate the amazing world around you in ways heretofore unseen in the action-adventure genre, and if the way YOU’VE chosen to interact with your environment is not the way Nintendo’s developers meant for you to interact with the environment? Well, that’s okay, because the game is DESIGNED that way. The developers created puzzles with specific solutions, while at the same time handing players the environment manipulating abilities they’d need to shortcut those solutions. People have been saying Breath of the Wild forever changes how we’ll play open world games, but it seems more likely that it will forever change how we interact with puzzles and obstacles in open world games, closed world games, and every game world in between.

3D Puzzle: Portal 2 – Name a true 3D puzzle game that’s better than Portal 2. I’ll wait. Fine, yes, specifically, this is probably an action-puzzle game, or a puzzle-platformer. But it would top those categories, too, so I’m just going to roll them all together under the “3D puzzle” label and crown Portal 2 the champ.

JRPG: Final Fantasy VI – There’ll be a lot of 16 bit SNES bias in this list. The SNES is still probably my favorite console of all time. But the quintessential JRPG series is Final Fantasy, and the most JRPG-y of the Final Fantasy games are the 16 bit SNES games: IV, V, and VI. IV gives you set characters with set jobs. Cecil is a Dark Knight who becomes a Paladin; Rosa is a White Mage who becomes a White Wizard; Rydia is a Black Mage/Summoner, and that’s that. I enjoy that approach. V implemented the best version of the famed FF Job System, which allowed you to assign jobs to your four template characters as you saw fit. FF VI managed to do both at once: your characters had job specific actions and abilities, but could also learn skills across the spectrum of FF jobs via magicite equip. Sabin, for example, is a martial artist… but if equipped with the right magicite shards, he can also become a White Mage. It’s an extra level of JRPG-y planning (do you grant your 14 playable characters abilities that match their innate abilities, or do you try and turn them into jack-of-all-trade characters) that FFVI does better than any JRPG before or since.

Western RPG: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Here’s something that happened in my first ten hours playing Skyrim: I returned to Riverwood, the first small town I’d encountered in the game as an escaped prisoner, to do some smithing and shopping. I stepped out of the trader’s shop only to hear a familiar roar and screech: the town was being attacked by a dragon. After heroically slaying the dragon, I realized that the two NPC’s who had given me shelter back when I’d first come to town, the blacksmith and his wife, had been killed in the battle; their daughter, a little girl, another NPC, was fully aware that she was now an orphan. It then became one of my in-game goals to save up enough money to buy a house and adopt this little girl whose parents had died because I wasn’t clean enough in my kill.

This was not a planned event. It is not part of an in-game quest. It is just a thing that happened.

That’s Skyrim.

Beat ‘Em Up: TMNT: Turtles in Time – I’m disproportionately fond of mindless beat ’em ups, but I’ve got some standards: 1.) They need to be fun. 2.) They can’t be impossible. 3.) They need dope moves. 4.) The soundtrack needs to wail. 5.) They’ve got to move quickly. River City Ransom is great, but has too many RPG elements and asks you to think too much. Double Dragon is a classic, but chugs along a little bit too slowly. Lots of the mid-90’s arcade brawlers are awesome, (The Simpsons, X-Men, etc.) but are designed to suck down quarters at a ridiculous pace. Turtles in Time is a 90’s arcade brawler designed for home consoles. It’s fun, it’s fast, it isn’t overly difficult, and the soundtrack is the TMNT theme remixed over and over (which might sound tedious, but is actually amazing.)

Level Builder: Super Mario Maker – The competition here isn’t stiff, save for one other game. Lots of level-builders are overcomplicated and hold a high barrier to entrance; Disney Infinity, for example, and though I’ve not played it I’ve heard the same about LittleBigPlanet. Super Mario Maker has the benefit of existing on the Wii U, crazily enough: an HD console with a stylus + touchscreen interface, perfect for a level builder. Mario Maker is built around a drag-and-drop graphical interface that speaks the language of the most popular gaming series of all time. It’s a near-universally appealing combination that lowers the barrier of entry to practically non-existent. And though the Wii U is far less ubiquitous than the Nintendo 3DS, the Wii U version of Mario Maker is obviously the superior version. Nintendo’s decision to leave online sharing out of the 3DS version of the game is one of the most terrible ideas they’ve ever had. It’s, like, Virtual Boy-bad. So why isn’t this in the “obvious” list? Because of one game that almost tops Mario Maker, and that game… is Lode Runner. Anyone who played it and built levels for it on IBM-compatible PC’s back in the early 80’s understands why.

Point-and-Click/Graphical Adventure: Sam & Max Hit the Road – There are lots of more famous LucasArts graphical adventure games. Day of the Tentacle, Fate of Atlantis, and Grim Fandango might all be better known, but Sam & Max Hit the Road holds the distinction of being a beautifully illustrated, brilliantly written, and legitimately great point-and-click adventure game… that is fully aware of how ridiculous point-and-click adventure games are. Besides: King’s Quest is the runner up in this category before any of those other aforementioned titles.

Star Wars: Star Wars Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader – This is the only IP to get its own category, and rightfully so. There’ve been so many Star Wars game of such varying quality. Knights of the Old Republic could have taken this spot, of course, as could have Super Return of the Jedi or X-Wing. But few games drop you into the Star Wars saga quite like the arcade action of this early GameCube title, and it’s the game that initially sold me on the GameCube, to boot.

First-Person Action-Adventure: Metroid Prime – I’m cheating a little by including this on a list that already includes 3D Action-Adventure, but I wanted to give the perfection that is Metroid Prime its due, and yes, Metroid Prime IS better than either of its sequels.

Classic Arcade: Ms. Pac-Man – Are you a Pac-Man person, or a Space Invader person? The correct answer is, “a Pac-Man person”, and Ms. Pac-Man and its multiple maze styles is far-and-away the best game of the entire Pac-Man franchise.

Arena Shooter: Splatoon 2 – Shut up, yes it is.

Strategy: Codename S.T.E.A.M. – #SorryNotSorry

The Too-Close-To-Call GOATs

2D Platforming: Super Mario World or New Super Mario Bros. 2Super Mario World is the obvious overall better experience… BUT New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the quintessential classic Super Mario experience: a 2D platformer that speaks the clearly established rules of the Super Mario universe (Mario World riffed on those rules quite a bit) that includes the key extra elements that have since defined the franchise, including fireballs, raccoon flight, Star Coin collection, and wall-jumping. Mario World is a unique, exciting experience, but New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a perfect distillation of everything that makes the franchise work. It’s not groundbreaking in the least (and therefore sometimes comes across as slightly boring) but it’s the Super Mario formula polished to an immaculate shine.

Racing: Mario Kart 8 or FORZA – I suppose I could have done two categories: arcade racing and sim racing. But I’m splitting the difference because although I don’t have a lot of experience with FORZA, the little bit I’ve played has been revelatory: it’s easily the best simulation franchise out there, as far as I’m concerned. Mario Kart 8, on the other hand, is the greatest game in the greatest arcade racing franchise of all time. Essentially, I don’t know enough about sim racing to do a whole separate category for it, but I wanted to acknowledge FORZA‘s greatness.

2D Action Platformer: Mega Man 2 0r Mega Man X or Ducktales or The Magical Quest Starring Micky Mouse or Aladdin (SNES) or… – Such a huge library of great games exist in this genre, and Capcom was the undisputed master of the form back in its heyday, as illustrated that my entire “can’t decide” list is made up of Capcom titles.

First-Person Shooter – See, my favorite FPS ever is the original Star Wars: Dark Forces, but even the guy who keeps insisting Codename S.T.E.A.M. is a top-ten all-time game isn’t silly enough to think Dark Forces is the best FPS of all-time.


Of Myths and Midna


Today I would like to offer a service to the befuddled casual Zelda fans out there, the ones who are excited to play Breath of the Wild but wonder if they’ll need to be caught up on the story that threads throughout the whole of the series to truly appreciate this new installment in one of gaming’s longest-running franchises. Here’s the short answer to that question: no, of course you won’t, don’t be ridiculous. Breath of the Wild is a Nintendo game, where story always takes a backseat to gameplay. Besides, the long-form “story” that’s told throughout the Zelda franchise is a befuddling mess, and the full series timeline is an afterthought of retconning that Nintendo performed as fan service when they released Skyward Sword for the Wii.

So I’ve no interest in trying to dissect how the Zelda timeline fits together. What I DO have interest in, is the series mythology. Remember: it’s the LEGEND of Zelda. Legends change, passed down from generation to generation, always retaining a few key elements that define them. You want to prepare yourself for the story of Breath of the Wild? Ignore the timeline. Embrace the legend. Learn the mythology.

In order to do that, you need to understand: in the Legend of Zelda franchise, there two types of games. The first type are the ones that deal with the series’ chief mythos, the generations-spanning tale of a struggle for balance and dominance between the Hylian Princess Zelda, the thief Ganondorf, and the hero Link, who are, respectively, the personifications of Wisdom, Power, and Courage. These are the three virtues most favored by the goddesses who created Zelda‘s magical kingdom of Hyrule, and they are the three virtues symbolized in the Triforce, the golden relic (and series MacGuffin) that serves as both trophy and wish-granting genie to whosoever should claim it as a prize. Many of the titles in the franchise focus narratively on the elements of this established mythology.

The other titles in the franchise are about magical dream islands, wind sorcerers, choo-choo trains, a sword that creates three clones of whoever wields it, the worst lunar eclipse ever, etc., etc.

Those games are all well and good… and in many cases, very good. For today’s purposes, though, we shall pretend they do not exist. Presented instead, for your consideration, is a list of the Zelda games one should look to in order to get a firm grasp on the franchise’s mythology as we head into Breath of the Wild.

Let’s begin.

Skyward Sword – This is the game were Nintendo seemed to throw their hands up in the air and say, “All right, we give up, there’s a Zelda timeline. Are you guys happy now?” Well, no, of course not; when are gamers ever happy? Still, in Skyward Sword Nintendo created a game that was the definitive, no-bones-about it origin story of the entire Zelda legend. It starred the first ever Link and Zelda instead of one of the many reincarnated versions of the pair that populate the other games in the franchise, it presented the origin of the Master Sword, it introduced players to the dark energy that will someday empower Ganondorf, it depicted the first steps of the future Hylians out of the clouds and onto the surface of what would soon become their magical kingdom, and… most importantly… it served as the first in-franchise appearance of the Triforce. Remember, we are attempting to catalog the “mythology” games in the Zelda franchise, and in order to determine whether or not a particular game is a mythology game we need only ask one simple question: does the Triforce play a key role? If the answer is yes: mythology. If the answer is no: not mythology. Skyward Sword acts as an origin story for all of the most important elements of the Zelda franchise, including the Triforce. Therefore: mythology.

Ocarina of TimeOcarina of Time is easily the second most important game in the Zelda mythology. As the first released of the 3D Zelda games, it really takes its time unpacking the story of the three goddesses who created Hyrule and the Triforce, and it introduces the franchise’s primary antagonist, the Gerudo thief Ganondorf (who at some point further on down the road will turn into a pig demon named Ganon, naturally.) When Ocarina was initially released, it was also the first time players were really introduced to the trifecta of conflict that defines the Legend of Zelda franchise; namely, Princess Zelda and Link vs. Ganondorf. Yes, yes, our post-truth world likes to dump on Zelda games because of the sexist “save the princess!” motif. I’d like to present two counterpoints to that: first, fairy tales and folklore narrative structure are centuries old. They have always resonated with audiences and there will always be a place for them. There is a way to pay homage to these traditions of the past while still providing a viewpoint for the modern world, though… which, starting with Ocarina of Time, the Zelda franchise does. Link is the player-controlled protagonist of every game, it’s true. But from Ocarina forward, Zelda is presented as his equal in every way, if not his better. In most of her incarnations she is the more powerful of the pair, not to mention (as bearer of the Triforce of Wisdom) the smarter. Zelda and Link teaming up to take on Ganondorf, rather than a knight saving a damsel in distress, is an important part of The Legend of Zelda‘s mythology, and while chronologically on the franchise timeline that dichotomy first occurs in Skyward Sword, as an aspect of series development it began in Ocarina of Time.

A Link to the PastOcarina of Time may have fleshed out the Zelda mythology, but A Link to the Past first suggested it. Yes, The Legend of Zelda and Zelda 2 both technically dealt with the Triforce, but they both had little to no actual story aside from, “Get the Triforce and save the princess. Aaaaand… GO!” A Link to the Past opens with an ancient history lesson about Hyrule and the Triforce. This revealed history more or less fits as a rough outline for the events in Ocarina of Time, which would be released on the Nintendo 64 seven years later. Although the specifics of the official Zelda timeline (which, true story, branches into three alternate realities after the events of Ocarina of Time) are muddy and confusing, and despite the fact that it is the earlier of the two games, A Link to the Past can be played as almost a direct sequel to Ocarina, as the ending of Ocarina of Time leads very neatly into the opening of A Link to the Past.

A Link Between Worlds – And then you can play the game that really WAS designed as a direct sequel. Truthfully, A Link Between Worlds began life as a remake of A Link to the Past, not as the sequel it eventually became, but at some point in development Nintendo said, “Eff it; let’s just make it a new game.” A Link Between World feels like a natural conclusion to a trilogy that also includes Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past, and repeats many of the themes of its two predecessors, such as Link’s travels back and forth between Hyrule and a corrupt alternate Hyrule, and the attempts of many of the game’s characters to break the Triforce out of the so-called Sacred Realm or Golden Land (a pocket dimension just to the left of Hyrule, sealed shut by the Master Sword, in which the Triforce is held.) It also fleshes out the lore of the Dark World first introduced in A Link to the Past, giving it a name (Lorule) and it’s own version of the Triforce legend… and if left alone, A Link Between World‘s ending could arguably bring an end to the entire franchise’s timeline. But it won’t be left alone, because people like these games, and so the timeline lurches on, unwieldy beast that it is. Huzzah!

The Legend of Zelda & Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link – I mentioned these earlier. The first two Zelda games laid the groundwork upon which the entirety of the franchise mythology has been built. Link, Zelda, Ganon, Hyrule, and the Triforces of Wisdom and Power, and then in Zelda 2, Courage: all are present, but only on a very basic level. Link exists only as a player avatar, Princess Zelda and the Triforce exist only as goals to attain, Hyrule only exists as an arena within which the game is played, and Ganon only exists so there is an enemy to defeat. So while Zelda 1 and Zelda 2 act as the birthplace for many of the most important elements of the franchise mythology, neither game does very much to grow the mythology beyond, “Here’s what this series is going to be about.” Which is, admittedly, a pretty important thing.

Twilight PrincessTwilight Princess is an odd bird. It tells a fairly self-contained story, and is a fairly traditional Zelda-mythology tale, but it introduces a few new, one-time players into the mix in the impish Midna and the Twilight King, Zant, both residents of the other-dimensional Twilight. Truthfully, when you take a step back you realize that the rough story of Twilight Princess unfolds in a fashion very similar to the story in A Link to the Past (done up in the graphical style of a Resident Evil game, of all things.) This is how legends work, truth told: similar stories told over and over, with new flavors added for a new audience’s enjoyment. I’m going to share a secret with you, gentle reader: human beings claim to want brand new stories told to them, but that’s a lie. What we as a species prefer are the same stories told to us in new ways. Twilight Princess is, at its core, a classic Zelda tale of light against dark and the trifecta of the Triforce, but it has been given a coat of fright make-up and the three-dimensional treatment. Also, you get to play as a wolf, so that’s fun.

The Wind Waker The Wind Waker might be the most unique of the Zelda mythology tales, and it’s not because of the cel-shaded graphics… or at least, not entirely. The sailing element is the big difference, of course, and traversing across an ocean-bound island kingdom is certainly going to lend itself to a different sort of story than padding across a traditional land-locked Hyrule. In Wind Waker, though, the “other” world is Hyrule itself, now a preserved ghost kingdom hidden at the bottom of the ocean. The stained glass windows and statues littered throughout the abandoned Hyrule castle tell the story of Ocarina of Time, so if Ocarina, Link to the Past, and Link Between Worlds function as a trilogy, The Wind Waker serves as a reboot of the Zelda mythology… or perhaps it’s the cherry on top. By the very end of The Wind Waker, the book has been closed on the land of Hyrule, and Wind Waker leads into two direct sequels of its own, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, two games that continue the story of The Wind Waker while establishing the mythology of NEW Hyrule, with nary a Ganondorf or Triforce to be found.

In closing…  The mythology of The Legend of Zelda is bookended nicely by Skyward Sword, where Hyrule begins, and The Wind Waker, where Hyrule ends. True, this line of thinking runs contrary to the three-pronged Zelda timeline Nintendo has established, but that hardly matters. Legends exist to be retold, bent, and twisted, the narrative loose so long as the mythos remains, relatively speaking. The tapestry of Hylian mythology is weaved through this small handful of game, which in a series of eighteen titles numbers only eight. Breath of the Wild will likely be the ninth, so if you want to get yourself ready for mighty number nine, focus on Skyward Sword, Ocarina of Time, A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds, and The Wind Waker (Zelda 1 and Zelda 2 are optional.) That’s it and that’s all… or, if you like, you can play the game where Link has to collect magical musical instruments to learn how to play “The Ballad of the Windfish” so he can crack the giant egg that sits atop Koholint Island.

You know what? For the time being, stick to the mythology.

Hyrule On My Mind

This isn’t a Zelda blog, I swear. It really isn’t. It’s an all-around Nintendo blog. It’s not for reviews, it’s not for reviews, it’s not for Let’s Plays… it’s for, you know, essays on the all-around Nintendo experience over the past thirty years.

That said… we’re less than a month away from Breath of the Wild, and over the next few weeks there’s going to be a lot of Zelda-themed shenanigans going on in this space. It stands to reason, I suppose. The Legend of Zelda is my favorite franchise, the biggest Zelda game since Ocarina of Time is about to drop, I have a cat named Zelda (true story), and I’ve spent the past year playing through all of the 3D Zelda games, not to mention a handful of the 2D games (The Minish Cap, The Legend of Zelda, Zelda 2… which I FINALLY BEAT. I should write about that…) So, yes, I’m going to be jotting down a bunch of words about The Legend of Zelda over the course of the next couple of weeks. Some my planned posts include:

  • A look at which games one should play, and in which order, if one was to attempt to play through the franchise’s core mythology.
  • The top ten bosses in 3D Zelda games.
  • My attempt at scientifically determining which of the 3D games is the best, and which is the worst.
  • Some musings on what it was like to FINALLY beat Zelda 2. (See? I’m gonna write about that.)
  • Presumably some stuff about how awesome Breath of the Wild is.

And so on, and so forth. Once I get through all of that, however, and once I’m finished with Breath of the Wild, I’d expect to have a very long Zelda drought. I’ve spent the past year-ish playing through eight Zelda games, after all. I think after I’m done with Breath of the Wild, I’m going to need a breather.

Also, I refuse to play through the three Game Boy Color games. They’re awful.

… I should write about that.

Featured image original link: http://carrotpixel64.deviantart.com/art/Hyrule-Field-HD-435505706

Twitter in the Age of the NES

The Internet is a landmark technological and social achievement. For the first time in human history, large swaths of the general populace have been granted the tools necessary to participate in mass communication, a level of interaction that, prior to the proliferation of smartphones and computers, had only been accessible through gateways of influence, geography, and social status. In a very short amount of time huge portions of humanity have been given a platform through which to express their individual voice to the world at large.

To paraphrase Kevin Smith via Holden McNeil: evidently everyone has chosen to use that voice to bitch about video games.

Look at that; I’ve already lied. People also use the power of mass communication to bitch about politics, television shows, celebrities, and just about anything else you could think of. To paraphrase (again) a common meme: if something exists, then somewhere on the Internet there’s someone complaining about it.

Which brings me to the Nintendo Switch.

I’ve no interest in railing against the Switch’s naysayers in this space. That’s a fool’s errand. People are free to feel however they like about whatever they like. Hell, I EXPECTED people to flip out over the motion control game Arms and the party game 1, 2, Switch, precisely because they belong to the category of, “That is different from what I already know. I do not like that.” (Or because they’re sick of Wii games. Either/or.)

I have seen some stuff I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect people to flip out about the price tag attached to Switch peripherals, but I’ll be fair: they’re pricy. A Pro Controller will run you $70-$80, and a set of extra JoyCons will be in the same ballpark. But here’s some of the OTHER things I’ve seen people on the Internet get all bent out of shape about: “Breath of the Wild is coming out on Wii U so I can get it there and so it doesn’t count as Switch a launch title!” Yeah, suddenly everyone loves the Wii U. That’s a new development, huh? “Switch might not have Netflix?! FAIL!” I have about a dozen devices I can watch Netflix on. I’m willing to wager most people who would drop $300 on the Switch have a few of their own. “1, 2, Switch should be a pack-in!” Okay, I can see that, but — “Arms should be a $10 digital download!” Wait, that’s pretty cheap, and you don’t know — “Splatoon 2 isn’t an actual sequel!” Okay, hold it. They said it has Turf War, new Inkling fashions, and a new weapon, and that’s all we know; how can you make the assessment — “I’m sick of SNES games!” … okay, what? (Literally saw that one as a criticism of the Switch. I don’t get it either.)

Finally, and without fail, comes the all-time, forever-favorite: “Why can’t they go back to doing things the way did them in (insert time of your childhood here)?!”

Oh, did you love how things were in the hazy past? Was the world a much better place when it, and you, were simpler and younger? Did you know that overrating times gone by is such a common behavior that there’s a specific term that describes the human tendency to do just that?

I sometimes wish the Internet existed back in the 80’s and 90’s to the extent that it exists today. Not because it’s a fantastic, useful piece of technology, but because I really want to be able to look up the ridiculous complaints people had about things they now claim were utterly perfect. I can only wonder what NES and SNES Twitter would look like… so let’s wonder together, shall we?

(Public Service Announcement: in the spirit of Nintendo, I’ve censored the saltier language. Use your imagination.)

  • “$199? Overpriced. I’ve never even heard of Nintendo. I’ll just get the new Atari. Thanks anyway.”
  • “A TOY ROBOT? What, does Nintendo want everyone to think the NES is for LITTLE KIDS?!”
  • “Who makes a gun for their system and just gives you a game where you shoot DUCKS?!”
  • “They should have made it so you can shoot the <bleep>damn dog.”
  • “You can’t scroll the screen back? What if the mushroom goes back past you? More like STUPID Mario Bros! #NintendLOL”
  • “Don’t buy that <bleep>; it was obviously in the deal they made that Mike Tyson isn’t allowed to lose. <Bleeping> dumb.”
  • “How am I supposed to kill Dracula IF I CAN’T CHANGE DIRECTIONS WHILE I’M JUMPING?!”
  • “They took a WHOLE STAGE out of Donkey Kong. I’M NOT PAYING FOR THIS!”
  • “It’s ridiculous there’s no map in Metroid. They just want you to buy their Player’s Guide! Total rip!”
  • “Holy <bleep>, The Legend of Zelda is amazing!” (Some things can’t be turned negative, as it turns out.)
  • “This Pac-Man game only has ONE BOARD?! Pass.”
  • “Why the hell am I throwing vegetables? I don’t want to play as the little mushroom guy! THIS ISN’T WHAT SUPER MARIO IS, NINTENDO!”
  • “I finally finished Metroid and SAMUS IS A GIRL?! WHAT THE <bleep> IS THIS FEMINIST AGENDA BULL<bleep>?!”
  • “Magic spells? Side scrolling? EXPERIENCE POINTS?! THIS ISN’T WHAT ZELDA IS, NINTENDO!”
  • “How many <bleeping> ogres do I have to fight? And if I’d known the thief was useless I would’ve picked the guy with the <bleep> red hat. <Bleeping> horse<bleep> game.”
  • “Black and white? They made it BLACK AND WHITE?! Oh my god Nintendo is doomed.”
  • “I don’t get it, am I supposed to shoot the falling bricks? And what the <bleep> is a tetris, anyway? Pass.”
  • “<Bleep> THIS DAM LEVEL!” (Okay, that’s a legitimate complaint.)
  • “He hops around on his cane? What kind of Disney Afternoon bull<bleep> is this?”
  • “Whose idea was it to make all the graphics red and black? #VirtualBust” (Also valid.)
  • “OHMYGOD Super Mario 3 is EVERYTHING!” (Again: some things don’t go bad.)
  • “What is this thing? A cloud? A marshmallow? A blob of snot that sucks and blows? #<Bleep>”
  • “I’ve GOTTA catch ’em all? What a scam.”
  • “Holy <bleep> Nintendo. If I wanted to ride a dinosaur I’d get a Flintstones game.”
  • “Uh… Sim series games don’t work on a console. #PCMasterRace”
  • “This future racing game looks cool, but it’s way too fast. How am I supposed to steer? #Broken”
  • “Holy <bleep>, A Link to the Past is what I’ve always wanted!” (See? Can’t ruin this one!)
  • “So ‘Super’ Metroid just looks like Metroid with kinda better graphics. Pass.”
  • “I’m supposed to use a MOUSE with my console? Stupid. But the bazooka light gun is AWESOME.”
  • “Wait: I can’t name the people in my party? THIS ISN’T WHAT FINAL FANTASY IS, NINTENDO!”
  • “Holy <bleep>, why are Mario and Luigi driving around in go-karts like some dumb<bleep> bobblehead dolls? LOL Nintendo is out of ideas, everyone!”
  • “A cartoon fox flying a spaceship? LOL <bleep> that kiddie <bleep>. Pass.”
  • “Super my <bleep>. Where’s Mike Tyson?!”
  • “Uh… if this is a MARIO game, then why the <bleep> am I playing as Yoshi?!”

And so on, and so forth. You get the idea. God <bleeping> bless us, every <bleeping> one.


The Greatest Generation

Although Nintendo denies it, this past week several reports came out indicating that the last Wii U has rolled off of the assembly line. If true, that would officially make the Wii an out-of-print console, and leave you as surprised as I was to hear that Wii U’s were still being made into October of 2016.

I’ve already written (in my ranking of every Nintendo console ever) that the system cycle that will end with the discontinuation of the Wii U gave us perhaps the best pairing of Nintendo home and handheld consoles we’ve ever seen. Though the Wii U’s sales figures were somewhere between rock-bottom and abysmal, its games deserved a better fate, a sentiment Nintendo seems to agree with. (See: Super Mario MakerHyrule Warriors, and Yoshi’s Woolly World making their way to the 3DS and the rumored Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon ports/upgrades headed to the Switch, not to mention the decision to launch Breath of the Wild on a system people might actually buy.)

Additionally, the owner of both a Wii U and a 3DS possesses a dual gateway to the greatest games Nintendo has ever offered. Between the Virtual Consoles for the two systems, gamers were granted access to the best games from the NES, SNES, N64, Wii, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS, leaving only the GameCube unrepresented.

And now, though the 3DS marches on (though for how much longer is anyone’s guess), the book has all but officially closed on the Wii U. That being the case, I thought I’d take a look back and shine a light on my five favorite games for each of the two consoles.

First disclaimer – As with everything I blog here, this is a totally subjective “My Favorites” list, not an objective “Best Of” list.

Second disclaimer – I haven’t gotten to everything I’d like on either console, so I did not take into consideration games such as Bayonetta 2, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Lego City Undercover, or Super Mario 3D Land. I did take Animal Crossing: New Leaf into consideration, but did not include it, as it blows. Please keep reading even though I said that about Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

Nintendo 3DS

5. New Super Mario Bros. 2 – I like the New Super Mario Bros. line, which lots of people seem to think isn’t a cool thing to say. My favorite game in the NSMB series is NSMB2, which is a nsmb2REALLY uncool thing to say. Consider, though: NSMB2 features the first return of the Super Leaf and Raccoon Mario since SMB3, some great new power-ups (there has never been a more powerful SMB item than the Golden Fire Flower), a goal outside of saving the princess in the very simple “collect every freaking coin you can get your hands on!” secondary objective that runs through the game, a great new challenge mode called Coin Rush (run through 3 random levels collecting as many coins as you can without dying), and underrated DLC (special Coin Rush level packs, including some really neat retro ones.) If you enjoy Super Mario Bros. games at all, and unless you hate fun I have to assume that you do, then New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a 3DS must-play. Just don’t think that playing it will make you seem cool.

4. Shovel Knight This generation, both on consoles and in the world of mobile games, saw somewhat of a retro revolution, a pixelated party of past-pilfering… I’ve run out of shovelknightP’s. There’ve been a lot of new games that look old, is what I’m saying. None, though, straddled the line between retro and modern as well as Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight, where pure 8-bit platforming meets 21st century spit-shine. It’s quite an achievement that Shovel Knight draws so clearly from so many classic games: Mega Man, Ducktales, The Adventure of Link, Castlevania, etc., etc., and yet still has its own unique identity. And although it’s “just” a 2D action-platformer, Shovel Knight is a game that uses the 3D slider to great effect; pushing the 3D on and up gives the world of Shovel Knight a remarkably pleasing depth-of-field aesthetic. Hell, Shovel Knight even got his own amiibo, and there ain’t no greater stamp of video game superstardom than that!

3. Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon – I never played Luigi’s Mansion on GameCube, which is odd, as Luigi is one of my favorite Nintendo characters. Why? Probably because he wears 3ds_lmansion_3_scrn03_e3green. I like green. Anyhoo. LM2: Dark Moon is almost Nintendo’s answer to the LucasArts point-and-click adventures of the 1990’s, with Luigi’s Poltergust 5000 and flashlight and various other tools serving as mouse cursor and interactive inventory. You guide the brave coward Luigi (another reason I like him; that’s one of my favorite fictional character traits) through a series of five haunted mansions, poking and prodding and pushing and pulling, busting ghosts and other paranormal specters along the way. Dark Moon also happens to be one of the most effective 3D showcases for the 3DS, where the pop-out effect makes the interior of each mansion feel like its own individual haunted dollhouse. I should end this with something like “Spooktacular!” I suppose, but I very much don’t want to.

2. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS – Because Nintendo does what it wants, Super Smash Bros. 4 released for 3DS almost two months before releasing on Wii U. Now they are not exactly super-smash-bros-wily-castlethe same game; they have different game modes and different stages, but they do have identical rosters. I poured hours into the 3DS version of Smash, while barely putting any time at all into the Wii U version. Why? I’m not sure. I got the 3DS one first, I liked the cel-shading, I simply like playing games on the 3DS… I couldn’t really tell you. What I CAN tell you is, that after a “meh” effort on the Wii with Smash Bros. Brawl, Nintendo returned the franchise to Melee-levels of glory and beyond, somehow managing to cram the insanely huge Smash 4 with all 50+ characters (including DLC), months of unlockables, fighter customization, amiibo support, and everything but the kitchen sink onto a 3DS cart. I main Link, Luigi, and Zero Suit Samus; my alternates are Mega Man and Toon Link. You?

1. Codename S.T.E.A.M. – Codename S.T.E.A.M. is a third-person turn-based military strategy game in which an elite strike force powered by steampunk n3ds_codenamesteam_gameplay_06tech, comprised of some of the greatest characters of American and English literature (including Tom Sawyer, Peter Pan‘s Tiger Lily, and all four main characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) and under the command of a secretly-still-alive Abraham Lincoln, must save the world from sub-zero alien invaders. Over the course of your campaign you will escort Britain’s Queen Victoria out of Buckingham Palace and to safety, pilot a giant Lincoln-shaped steampunk mech (the Anthropomorphized Battle Engine, or A.B.E.), and save the Emerald City from an alien takeover. If Fire Emblem was a third-person game, it would play a lot like Codename S.T.E.A.M.; if Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six was turn-based, it would also play a lot like Codename S.T.E.A.M. After all that, the only question that remains is: why aren’t YOU playing a lot of Codename S.T.E.A.M.?

Honorable Mentions – The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds; The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

Wii U

5. Captain Toad Treasure Tracker – Who knew that a game of HD puzzle boxes spun off from Super Mario 3D World and starring a character with zero offensive abilities could be so much 2558115-wiiu_captaintoad_scrn01_e3fun? Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is one of those “out of left field” games Nintendo specializes in; a thing that maybe SHOULDN’T have worked but absolutely did. Just spinning around the levels and zooming in on Captain Toad as he dutifully trudges along on his quest for Mario’s supplies is fun enough, but then in true Nintendo fashion the game ups the ante by featuring increasingly difficult-but-not-impossible puzzles and boss battles for Toad (and his far braver partner-in-treasure-tracking Toadette) to conquer. Just when we thought we didn’t want any more games in the Mario universe, Nintendo turned the running-and-jumping Mario formula on its head and made a walking-and-standing platformer that is every bit as fun as Mario’s most frantic adventure.

4. Arkham City: Armored Edition – Since at least 2003 or 2004, I’ve been a Nintendo-only gamer. This means I’ve missed out on a few great titles I would otherwise have loved to play, and batman-arkham-city-armoured-edition-12the Arkham series tops that list. I don’t have to sing its praises: we all know that the Arkham games are the rare superhero games that are not only good, but actual Game of the Year material. So while most people dismiss the Wii U’s early 3rd-party ports (Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Splinter Cell) as too little, too late, Arkham City was a must-own Wii U title for me. Having now played it (and Arkham Origins) exclusively on Wii U, I have to say I can’t imagine it without the GamePad functionality that turns the Wii U into a wrist-mounted Bat Computer, providing the Dark Knight with maps, item access, and forensic analysis. My only regret is that Arkham Asylum never got a Wii U port, but hey… I can always hold out hope for Arkham Switch.

3. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD – The conversation about the “best” Legend of Zelda game will never end, which is strange, because the “best” Zelda game is obviously largeThe Wind Waker HD. Although it’s about two dungeons away from perfection (if only those mini fire and ice dungeons were at all substantial) the once-controversial cel-shaded cartoon-style artwork has aged like fine wine, the combat system is fluid and fun, and the HD treatment transforms The Wind Waker HD into a current-gen title, not a fifteen year-old one. And this isn’t even taking into account the sailing. Oh, the sailing. Opening up the Swift Sail and gliding across the Great Sea in crystal-clear widescreen HD is as transportive an experience as can be had with a video game, and watching landmasses and weather events pop up on the far horizon and then gradually slide into view gives The Wind Waker HD the grandest sense of exploration in the entire Zelda franchise. Well. At least until Breath of the Wild drops.

2. Hyrule Warriors – Sometimes, crazy ideas work. The crazy idea this time was to take Nintendo’s storied The Legend of Zelda franchise, a game series known for its exploration dodongoand puzzle solving, and blend it with Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors franchise, a series known for its purely combat oriented gameplay set during the Chinese Han dynasty, where beefed-up super warriors slay legions of enemies with every swipe of their swords. As it turned out, though, Hyrule Warriors was the shot in the arm nobody realized the Zelda franchise needed. After years of 3D Zelda games that were more-or-less iterations on the two decade old Ocarina of Time, there was something very satisfying about controlling Link or Zelda or Impa or almost two dozen total characters and dishing out gnarly damage and hyper combos. A ton of awesome DLC, a 3DS port, and the best Ganon battle since Ocarina pretty much guarantees that there will be more Hyrule Warriors in our future.

1. Splatoon – I’ve already waxed poetic about my love of Splatoon here, but I can always say more! I don’t even want to look at the gargantuan number of hours I’ve put into splatoon-spattleSplatoon by now, so instead I’ll say this: Splatoon is emblematic of everything I love about video games. Bright colorful graphics, memorable characters, great art direction, a unique mechanic, tons of customization options, fast-moving gameplay that somehow blends together the best of Call of Duty and Tony Hawk Pro Skater… the list goes on. I’m not big into online multiplayer games, at all. I greatly prefer single-player gaming experiences. Splatoon, though, is the exception that proves my rule. I would not have had half of the fun I had with the Wii U if it had not been for Splatoon, and since Breath of the Wild is coming for Wii U as well as for the Switch, the killer Switch app for me, for once, won’t be the Zelda game. It’ll be Splatoon. (Hopefully branded as Spla2n. Fingers crossed.)

Honorable Mentions – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD; Pikmin 3; Super Mario 3D World; Disney Infinity 3.0

The Cult of Nintendo

Did you have a Nintendo Club with your friends called The Totally Radical Video Gridiron Warriors? No? Just me?

I understand. Odds are your Nintendo club was called something very different.

The Nintendo was not just about the system and the games. That first Nintendo system impacted modern culture in a way no other video game platform has ever managed.

We live in a world where Mario has become as internationally recognizable an icon as Mickey Mouse. What other figure in video games can claim that? Pac-Man, maybe? Lara Croft? Sonic the Hedgehog? Those are the only ones I can think of, off the top of my head, that maybe come close, and let’s be honest: they don’t even come close.

What other gaming platform (not GAME, but PLATFORM) has been the focus of a feature-length Hollywood film? How many notes does it take for the average human of a certain age to recognize the World 1-1 music from Super Mario Bros.? How many of us grin knowingly when they see a t-shirt that reads “Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start”? How many of us know that a star makes one invincible, and that it’s dangerous to go alone and we should take this? Do you actually think we’ll see a Captain Playstation: The Game Master TV show anytime soon? When you hear Russian folk music do you think of Tchaikovsky or Tetrinos? DO all your base belong to us? DO you love your Power Glove? Tell me, which OTHER console established the standard by which all future platform, puzzle, shooter, adventure, RPG, and sport games would be judged? Have you ever tried to make a piece of technology work by blowing in it, and follow-up question, where did you get THAT move from?

As huge as the video game industry is now, it is, like all modern entertainment options, fragmented amongst a disparity of content providers. Nintendo, though, in the days of the NES… Nintendo was a culture. Nintendo was a cult. Nintendo… was a way of life.

And we were all playing. With power.

Nintendo Power

It all began with the Official Nintendo Player’s Guide, a black-covered serious-looking tome of insider tips for that first generation of classic NES games, complete with full maps and full-color screenshots and illustrations. It was not a book I owned, but it was a book I borrowed from friends probably a dozen times.

As I was not on-board the NES train from day one, I missed out on the Nintendo Fun Club, the early officially Nintendo-licensed organization, with a newsletter and other perks. The membership form came in the box with my Nintendo, and my parents sent it in and signed up for me, but in that pre-Internet 6-8 weeks of processing time the Fun Club went kaput, and instead of my newsletter and trinkets what eventually arrived in the mail was so much cooler: the first issue of Nintendo Power magazine.

Clay statue Mario was on the cover, pushing the much anticipated Super Mario Bros. 2 on an eager readership. Nintendo Power proved to be a monthly dose of what I loved the Official Nintendo Player’s Guide for, and more: maps, tips, tricks, previews, “Classified Information”, “Counselor’s Corner”, Nintendo-themed contests, celebrity Nintendo gamer profiles, the “Howard & Nester” comic strip… there was not a feature in Nintendo Power I did not devour. In the early burgeoning field of video game magazines Nintendo Power was the best.

Now, was it a publication chock full of Nintendo propaganda? Well, sure. It pushed Nintendo product like the mass marketing machine it was designed to be. But it was also the definitive ad-free, Nintendo-only source for game-breaking maps and secrets. The fuzzy screenshots and map-less content offered besides lame tips in early competitors like GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly could not hold a candle to the production value and Nintendo exclusive strategy guides offered under the Nintendo Power banner. Sure, as other gaming platforms gained traction and other publishers figured out their game, Nintendo Power dwindled down into a shadow of the greatness it once was (much like Nintendo itself). But in those early halcyon days where Nintendo was king, Nintendo Power was the law of the land.

In the Beginning…

Two things come to mind when I think back to the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, or just “The Nintendo”. The first is that I almost never had one, and had it been up to my parents I probably never would have. The second is that, truthfully, most of the most influential games of my lifetime were not games I played on the NES. That first Nintendo system was my gateway drug, the pot or prescription painkillers that led me to the wonderful world of crystal meth that was the Super NES.

That probably wasn’t the best metaphor I could have gone with.

It was Christmas… I want to say 1988, but it could have been 1987. I had long since resigned myself to my fate: my parents were convinced that my Atari 2600 was enough video game for one household, and that this whole “Nintendo” thing was just either more of the same or a fad that would soon pass. No amount of references to blurry, squinty images of The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros. screen shots in the Sears/Roebuck Christmas catalog would convince them otherwise. No, there would be no Nintendo for me. I would spend the rest of my life condemned to playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! or Spelunker (or any other number of game cartridges that stunk of cigarettes, rented from a local mom-and-pop video store) at my friend Steven’s, or every other game ever made at my friend Jason’s, i.e. that kid you knew whose parents bought him every game ever made.

I am the youngest of six children, but it’s more complicated than that. My dad was married twice. His first wife passed away when their two children, Jimmy and Regina, were still young, and he married my mom when they were in their early teens. Now it’s important to note: although I was always AWARE of the details of these familial connections, it never OCCURRED to me until my early 20’s that Jimmy and Regina were, in reality, my half-brother and half-sister. They were always just my way-older brother and sister, a decade and a half separating us as opposed to the two-years-like-clockwork between Maggie, Lizz, Mary Cate, and myself.

Thinking back on Christmas ‘88 (or ‘87) it occurs to me that the whole thing may have been a set-up, and my parents may well have known exactly what was going to happen. In my memory, though, they were as surprised as any of us, although much more frowny in their expression of said surprise. As I said: I knew that a life with the NES was not in the cards for me. Imagine my surprise, then, when my brother Jim, home for Christmas with his wife Christine, hauled out a big wrapped box, a “family” gift.

You already know what it was.

Let’s get real: this was a “family” gift in name only, and in hindsight my parents, on a limited budget but knowing there was only one thing I really wanted, or maybe not wanting to spend so much on me in comparison to what they were spending on my siblings, may have set the whole thing up with Jimmy. But again, as I remember it, they were kind of pissed at him and the semi-smug enjoyment he took in watching me unwrap the present and going ape-poop bananas, which really is how we should all always get to react to Christmas presents.

That Christmas was spent stomping Koopas and hunting ducks. I even (begrudgingly) let Jimmy play for a little while. But again (and I can’t make this clear enough) the only member of the family really interested, long-term, in the NES and the hours of joy it would bring, was me.

The introduction of a Nintendo to our household brought regulations that were swiftly pushed to the wayside, because what were my parents going to do? I was already an honor student and a pretty well-behaved kid, I was already doing household chores for a relative bargain-rate allowance; there was very little they could reasonably hold over my head as a device through which to dole out to me my Nintendo playing time.

The NES laid out the groundwork for the standards to which I would hold my video-gaming life. This was where so many of the great franchises of gaming were born (even those that would later move exclusively to other systems), though many of those franchises would not see their best incarnation on the 8-bit NES. This was just a start, and I think on some level I understood that even then, I understood that the games I played and loved and devoured were… incomplete. Imperfect. Part of a larger process. So the number of stand-alone NES games I now point to as being influential or impactful are surprisingly few. Remember: this was a brave new world of mass-consumer home gaming, the first time the console gaming experience was beginning to rival in quality the product being pushed on PC or in the arcade. “Nintendo” was the battle cry of a burgeoning culture, synonymous with video games the way “Coke” was synonymous with cola.

My point? Moreso than arguably any other console system, the NES sure had a lot of half-assed crap on it, mixed in with all the classic games that we remember so fondly.

But who wants to talk about the crap? Not me. No, not when I spent a good five years doing nothing but playing… *deep breath* Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, The Legend of Zelda, Combat, Ikari Warriors, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Mega Man 3, Castlevania, Contra, Tecmo Bowl, Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, Donkey Kong Classics, Castlevania 3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, Super Mario Bros. 3, Ice Hockey, RBI Baseball, The Adventures of Lolo, Bionic Commando, City Connection, Mighty Bomb Jack, Adventure Island, Metroid, Double Dragon, Kung Fu, Double Dragon 2, Ninja Gaiden, River City Ransom, Battletoads, Shadowrun, StarTropics, The Goonies 2, Gradius 2, Excitebike, Bubble Bobble, Blaster Master, Dr. Mario…

I’m not writing about each and every one of these games right now. And I’ve undoubtedly forgotten to mention some. But… man. My childhood was AWESOME.