Platformers are no longer the main staple in gaming like they used to be 20 years ago. Rarely will you ever see a platformer make a game of the year, but they still hold a strong audience and can be killer apps on any system?
Super Mario Maker 2
While there were plenty of amazing platformers this year, Super Mario Maker 2 takes an already tried and true gameplay formula and design and makes it incredibly fun and addictive. With every Mario generation present and all of the weight and physics that go with each one, including a massive level editor, there are hundreds of hours of platforming fun thrown in. Nintendo created levels are amazing and truly test your skills. This is a behemoth of a package that is hard to beat.
Simple is a great word to put in the title because this game is very simple, almost too simple and it’s a continuing issue with these “artsy-fartsy” games that have been out since Echochrome was released over 10 years ago. Journey is still the game that does this best and hasn’t been topped. While Arise actually has gameplay, unlike similar games it still has no purpose, meaning, or story. You play as an old man who is clearly remembering his past be it meeting his wife, surviving harsh journeys as a child, and various problems that arose with his own child, but these are told with just statues posing to show an image or an idea and it’s never really clear.
The majority of Arise is composed of great platforming with varied environments and time manipulation at your disposal. One level has you rewinding and fast-forwarding time to freeze or thaw water causing platforms to appear and disappear underwater. Another is a level where you just leap across lily pads and moving time makes the pads spin around. Another level is on a mountainside and you use the time to rewind time to use the destruction of the cliffside to use as platforms. It’s very unique, fun, and I had a blast figuring out how to get across each level having different uses from the time manipulation and varied levels made the 3-hour adventure never seem stale.
However, a few issues arose with weird camera angles and I couldn’t make out where I was jumping and made poor judgments. I even ran into an issue where a sparkly wind would carry me across a level and dump me on a lilypad only to fall right through it…about half a dozen times. Outside of this, the game wasn’t hard to figure out and I flew through the game in no time. The music is fantastic and has a sweeping orchestral score similar to Journey. But, unlike Journey, there just isn’t a purpose or story really told here and I want this fanciful art to stick with me. I know I’ll forget Arise in a few weeks while I still remember my three playthroughs of Journey from 7 years ago like they were yesterday.
The visuals are superb with a gorgeous art style and lighting effects. I particularly like how each level has a feeling behind the platforms. The lilypads feel squishy while another level’s bouncy round cells feel like rubber. There’s so much to look at and take in that on a really nice TV or monitor the colors will pop and dazzle you. The seven levels bring something new to the game and each one takes around 20 minutes to finish. There are even some areas where ghosts will kill you if you don’t manipulate the forest fire around you to provide light, and another level has you pausing time to light up the area with lighting strikes. It’s just such a shame there’s no reason to finish the journey other than to see the gorgeous levels.
Overall, Arise doesn’t break the cycle of artsy indie games having no story or purpose, but it at least has great gameplay unlike the majority of them. I wanted to feel the emotions the old man was going through but how can I when there’s no context? Developers need to understand that they may understand and feel what’s going on, but we as players have no clue. A few statues and an old man looking sad don’t tell us anything. Play Arise for the visuals and platforming but don’t expect something to tell your friends about.
Nintendo always has a knack for making one huge innovation to their franchises per console cycle and the Switch is no exception. Odyssey is a well-crafted game taking many years of experience and gameplay honing and creating one of the best video game experiences in the last decade. Odyssey is massive with dozens of hours of content and a variety of things to do.
Like all Mario games, there’s not much of a story, just your typical Bowser kidnapping Princess Peach story again with no cut scenes or anything else, but that’s fine as Mario is all about the gameplay. The main gameplay hook in this Mario game is his hat. He can throw it to take control of enemies, for combat, and to get out of reach items. The hat works so naturally and feels great to use that I never had any issues. Once you arrive in the Cap Kingdom you will be leaping and bounding similarly to Super Mario Galaxy in the way Mario moves and jumps. Taking control of certain enemies gives you special combat abilities or allows you to access certain areas Mario can’t. It’s so much fun and I always looked forward to the next thing I could control.
Another element is the new 2D levels. These are hidden throughout the game and give you moons that are needed to power up your Odyssey ship to get to Bowser. There are 880 moons in the world. I know it’s a monster of a task, but it’s so much fun. Your first playthrough allows you to get the first batch, then after you beat the game, there are meteor rocks that you can smash in each world and they send the rest of the moons flying. Anyways, these 2D levels are just like the 8-bit games with Mario wrapped around the 3D world jumping and hopping along.
Mario can also swim, fly (with controller enemies), and pretty much do anything you can imagine as the game is so varied and there’s so much to see and do. Not one world is alike and each one has new things to do and discover. Mario can also change his hats and outfits this time around by buying them with coins or using special world-specific coins. Some outfits are needed to access bonus areas. These bonus areas are actually the most fun and challenging, but well worth it for the moons.
There are boss fights with Bowsers minions the Boonals which are evil bunnies. The boss fights are really easy and so is Bowser at the end of the game. It’s clear that the game doesn’t rely on bosses for challenges as some bonus areas had me stuck for over an hour restarting until I got all the jumps right. Thankfully most of the game is a perfect challenge and some of the challenges are just figuring out how to get to the next moon or bonus area. Some are in plain sight while others require you to think a little bit and do certain things. There are music note challenges as well as scarecrow timer challenges. All of these things combined make for an exciting game that is incredibly hard to put down.
I really can’t find anything negative to say except that all you do is collect moons and there’s no other end goal. There are at least fast travel points in each world so even that isn’t a problem. The visuals are fantastic and the entire games just feel alive with character and personality. It’s hard to hate a game made this well, 30 years of perfection really shows with zero control issues, framerate problems, or anything else. No matter how you slice it this is essentially a perfect game. The amount of variety just boggles my mind and I don’t know how the developers managed to make every bonus area, challenge, and the world completely unique, especially to house 880 moons.
Overall, Super Mario Odyssey is a must-own for Switch fans and a good reason to buy one. There is no other platform that offers this kind of gaming perfection other than Nintendo. They are masters of video games and it shows in every one of their unique main title games.
Playing as a ball of yarn isn’t a new concept. Nintendo first did it with Kirby’s Epic Yarn and it was a charming blast. Coldwood tries its hand at crochet platforming and it’s done fairly well. I can’t really explain the story much as it really doesn’t exist. Yarny, the character, is on a journey to find various crocheted figures to attach to a photo album. Who this family is and what the reasoning behind Yarny’s animation and coming to life is never explained. The entire idea doesn’t make any sense at all, but we’re here for the platforming.
The game has physics-based platforming and puzzle-solving. There’s a trail of red yarn behind you and this is your lifeline. It can wraps around things, create bridges, and is used as a grappling hook. Simple puzzles involve hooking the yarn on points and creating bridges to drag objects up, while more complex ones involve wrapping the yarn in various ways to activate a pulley or open a door. It’s very interesting and unique and there are so many different types of puzzles, but the problem relies on the mechanics around it.
The platforming is either heavy or too springy. Yarny will jump on an object and immediately bounce off of it in a forward motion only. It’s very hard to control this movement especially when the camera doesn’t pan over quick enough. The game is also hindered by poor pacing. I enjoyed running around pushing objects, pulling levers, and swinging around like a monkey, but once I got my groove and momentum a big puzzle would halt my progress interrupting the trance. I prefer just going forward and enjoying the scenery while swinging around and knocking things over, but once those puzzles started I got frustrated.
Part of this has to do with most mechanics not being explained early on, the objects you need blend in too much with the background, or it’s very unclear that there’s a hook off camera that you must jump to. Checkpoints are placed frequently, but some are misplaced as I would have to repeat a long easy section just to get to the one annoying jump or off-camera grapple and fall again and again. Some areas I started over a dozen times just to get right.
Outside of that, the game plays fine with 13 levels. You will be busy for a good 4-6 hours since some areas are really tough to get through. I loved the scripted moments and some of the dangerous areas where Yarny runs from animals are pretty fun, but those big puzzles just really halted all the fun.
The game looks absolutely stunning with realistic-looking textures and such a huge variety of environments from forests, tundras, toxic waste dumps, construction sites, and swamps. It’s incredible to look at and experience and the music is great despite the same track repeating over and over through each level. It got irritating quick.
We may not have gotten many puzzle games, but this was a great comeback for platformers. Usually, this is the weakest category in which I have to wring the release list dry to find just a couple of decent games. Here we saw many major AAA releases which are good news for this dying genre.
Surprisingly enough, this was a hard decision this year. However, the king of platforming returned with an all-new Mario experience, and I mean all new. Not since Super Mario Galaxy have I felt the wonder and magic of Mario, and Oddysey returned this feeling. With new mechanics, a way to explore, and story ideas that break the Mario mold for the first time in decades, it’s something I will remember long after the game is collecting dust on the shelf.
Minimalist side-scrollers have become very popular in Limbo. Inside is just another example of these horror side scrollers done right. Little Nightmares doesn’t really tell a story through voices or words, but through actions. Unlike Inside, Little Nightmares doesn’t have too much of a story to tell. You play as a child trying to escape a ship from humongous fat monsters trying to eat you. That’s all we get really.
Sadly, the story doesn’t really explain much as the art direction, monster design, and backdrops are wonderful and beg for more storytelling. The beginning of the game is made up of basic platforming with simple physics puzzles and a lot of atmospheres. Eventually, you start seeing the occupants of this ship and that’s when things get creepy.
Little Nightmares does a fine job of creating a tense atmosphere and suspense. Grabbing and sneaking are tied to the shoulder buttons, so when you grab something you must hold the button down. This makes things more intense as you are running away from a monster with a key to unlock a door and if you let go of that button it’s all over. The middle of the game is made up of outsmarting these monsters and the puzzles get bigger, but not really harder.
There’s not much to really explore outside of lighting lanterns for checkpoints and breaking porcelain dolls to unlock achievements. The game is definitely intense throughout the 3 hours it takes to complete, there wasn’t a dull moment that I can remember. I always felt like I was running and overpowered and small. From climbing stacks of dishes and escaping on meat hooks to chopping off the arms of a doll maker. The game gives players something that most don’t and that’s solid gameplay while combining excellent visuals and touching moments.
Overall, these is some of the best 3 hours you will spend. From beginning to end, Little Nightmares has something interesting to offer and it’s never boring. The graphics are gorgeous with art styles that reminded me of Box Trolls mixed with Coraline. If you love horror games and platformers then this is for you.
Muramasa was a highly acclaimed Wii game from Vanillaware of Odin Sphere (and now) Dragon’s Crown fame. It had high speed and fancy fight moves but was extremely challenging and had memorable characters. It now makes its transfer to Vita in HD with bright gorgeous graphics and two whole storylines to play through.
I played through Momohime’s (Peach Princess) storyline so my experience is based on that. Momohime is possessed by a spirit who wants the infamous Demon Blade and will cut anyone down in her path. She goes from Hell to Heaven and even cuts down gods. The game is 90% combat and man are it tough and fun. You can equip three different blades at once and switch between them with a triangle. When your blades are flashing you can press triangle to unleash a powerful full-screen attack. Each blade has its own special power which is key to winning hard fights. If you use the blade too much or block too often the blade will break and you will need to switch to a different one and wait for it to recharge. You can use whetstones to hasten this, but as you level up and forge new weapons they will break less often.
This is basically all there is to combat: You press the attack or use special powers combined with directions. It may seem simple but the game is so tough you can’t just button mash. You have to use strategy mixing up dodges, blocking, special and regular attacks. The game constantly kept me on my toes and I had to learn every bosses’ moves and sometimes restarted dozens of times. When I finally beat a boss it was so satisfying. In between, there’s some platforming and item hunting but you travel from locale to locale and get stopped by fights between each screen. I had a lot of navigating the gorgeous environments and even stopping to shop for health items and various other ones to help out in fights.
One other small feature is being able to cook with items you find. These are used to heal you which you will use often. Always make sure you are stocked on health items or you will never make it through the game. Outside of all the fighting, the dialogue is interesting and the Japanese voice acting is fantastic. The characters are memorable (I have already purchased a $145 figure of Kongiku) and you will stay hooked. With two stories to play through, there’s a lot of content here.
Vanillaware is known for its unique high-fantasy mixed with the ancient Japanese art style and it really shines here. The game pops to life on the Vita’s OLED screen and just makes your eyes water it looks so crisp. The controls are perfect and extremely responsive, honestly, even though this is a port, it’s one of the best Vita games available right now. That makes two Vanillaware games on one system. If you love 2D games or action hack and slash games this is a must-buy.
Castlevania has struggled for years in the 3D department. Lords of Shadowwas the first solid Castlevania that was in the 3D that did the series justice. Some hardcore fans shame the game, but I think it is one of the best action games of this generation. Mirror of Fate brings that same awesomeness to the 3DS with great combat and solid platforming.
You play as four protagonists through the whole game. Simon, Alucard, Gabriel, and Trevor. The game has simple 2D platforming with jumping and swinging, but the combat is solid enough. You have two attack buttons and a special power button. The special powers vary from axes (CV1 anyone?) to passive powers like being invincible for a short time or turning into a werewolf (Alucard). The combat is punchy and powerful and feels great. However, the game is incredibly hard. It requires a lot of skill and mastering the combat to get through the game because it can just get downright tough, but it’s beatable. Apart from the combat you are mainly solving puzzles and finding secrets.
Puzzles involve pushing and pulling objects into the right places, flipping switches in sequential order, and sometimes even labyrinthine mazes. The map is very useful since you can place notes and it will tell you if there’s a secret or something useful nearby. Upgrading health and magic seems like a standard affair but you have to find these chests and make an effort, they aren’t handed to you. There was some annoying backtracking which felt a bit cheap, and the fast travel system is nearly useless since you never know which level you will end up in. I did get lost a few times and the puzzles can be real head-scratchers, but platforming fans shouldn’t struggle too much.
The story is pretty short and there’s no reason to really come back. People who never played Lords of Shadow won’t really get the story since the ending is extremely sad. The graphics are amazing and these are the best 3D effects I have seen on the 3DS thus far. They pop out and just make the whole game come to life. I honestly didn’t see much that wasn’t in 3D in some way.
Overall, Mirror of Fate is a solid yet difficult platformer that will make any Castlevania or platformer fan happy. The story is interesting, the 3D effects are amazing, and the combat is solid. Just be prepared for some backtracking and short game time.
2D platformers have had a huge comeback in the past 5 years, but none of them really offer a great challenge. Rogue Legacy offers a lot of replay value thanks to the randomly generated dungeons and characters. I love Rogue’s character selection system. You get to pick between three different people and when you die their attributes make an offspring that is similar. Some characters walk upside down, some have extra strength, health, MP, HP, and various other passive effects. This is really neat and sometimes you are forced to choose one particular character so the other bad genes are wiped out on your next death. You can upgrade your weapons at each rebirth and you can give up 30% of all gold you find to lock down the castle if you liked the previous layout. When you enter the castle you must forfeit all your gold so you start from scratch. This is a cool feature and doesn’t really get in the way.
When you actually play you will be greeted with great controls and fast-paced and challenging combat that’s similar to Mega Man and Castlevania. Breaking open objects gives you gold or items, and enemies can be really tough and fast. You have to stay on your toes because you can die really easily. I died around 15-20 times before I even got to the first boss. You also get items that use MP kind of like in Castlevania. Honestly, this game felt like Castlevania meets Infinity Blade which isn’t a bad influence. I wasn’t frustrated because sometimes the rebirth was for the better. After a while, it gets kind of hard so it’s only fun in short bursts. I found the game very addictive and the variety of enemies kept me coming back for more.
The whole point is that you become more powerful every time you die, so it’s not like other games where all your progress resets. You are always progressing no matter how good or bad you are at the game. After a while you start learning the enemy patterns and eventually even a favorite layout. The graphics are actually pretty good with nice 8-bit sprites, this is actually one of my favorite platformers in a long time since ‘Splosion Man and Fez. There’s really not much wrong with the game other than the lack of level variety and the game can be way too hard. This game relies solely on skill to advance, and the better you are the longer you can survive.
Don’t let the simplicity and small scope of Rogue Legacy turn you away. If you love platformers and challenging games this is for you. The game has a great chip-tune soundtrack, nice graphics, and solid controls. The constant dying and respawning can get tedious sometimes and the progress you made before can feel like it’s all for nothing. Thankfully there are many upgrades and items to buy to keep you coming back for more.
Honestly, for such a “new” series it sure has repeated a lot. I think the New part should have dropped off long ago. We are seeing the same formula from New Super Mario Bros./Galaxy and it hasn’t changed, not one bit. There are just a few additions to accommodate the Wii U gamepad and those aren’t even that impressive or necessary.
If you have played games from the series you know what you’re in for. This time around the difficulty of the game is ramped up to 11 and the addition of a four-player co-op can either help or break the game. The biggest addition is the Boost Mode from the gamepad user. You can see everyone on screen and can tap to lay blocks that your buddies can jump on. You can defeat enemies for them, help with bosses, stop items from running away, and even help block obstacles. This is both a blessing and a curse. With just one or two people it’s easy, but with three or more you can’t keep track of everyone. If you lay successful blocks you get a rainbow star which makes you invincible and you can defeat anything. A lot of times you will place a block wrong and kill everyone because Wiimote players rely on the Boost guy a lot.
It’s also mindless fun, but the game’s difficulty will make everyone throw their controllers. I restarted levels 20+ times because I just could not get through them. Nintendo continues to offer cheats, and the worst one yet is the Luigi demo. You can literally hit a green block and watch Luigi complete the level for you so you can move on. What kind of crap is that? Is this what we’re teaching the new generation of gamers Nintendo? That games will beat themselves? Half the time I didn’t care because after losing 25 lives and rotating the gamepad to friends we just couldn’t beat the level. There is a large variety and there are some fun power-ups like the ice flower, but most people will give up early on.
Another feature added is the Miiverse. It’s honestly just very annoying. People can post what’s on their mind if they lose or beat a level and it just feels like Nintendo’s version of Twitter, but 5-10-year-olds can post on it so you get incomprehensible words, strange drawings, and it just feels really annoying. Of course, only the gamepad player can post and see other people’s posts. You can also play as your Mii which is fun, but these aren’t anything that would make someone buy a Wii U. Once again, Nintendo fails to sell their consoles at their own games.
The graphics really haven’t changed much from the Wii, they aren’t groundbreaking like Mario 64 or Galaxy was. I really feel this series is now dead in the water gameplay-wise. Mario just needs a serious reboot. It doesn’t help that the game is overly difficult and all the new hardware features are forced and can actually make the game feel worse to play. Even the star coins are nearly impossible to get this time, and there’s still no reward for getting them all. Going from level to a level just made me feel dizzy with Deja vu.
As it stands, NSMB U isn’t a console seller and doesn’t advance the series at all. The Wii U hardware features feel forced and sometimes break the game. It’s also the most expensive Mario game since the 64 eras. $60 for a game you have played many times before isn’t a bargain. If you are already tired of the series, this won’t change your mind at all.