Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Super Mario 3D All-Stars Review

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo European Research & Development
Available On: Switch (Until March 31, 2021)
Price: $60

When I first heard rumors of Super Mario Bros 35th anniversary celebrations, my imagination ran wild with dreams of a Mario 64 remake, Super Mario Odyssey 2, and a Mario collection with tons of games. What we got was nowhere near that cool. Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a pretty barebones collection of the first three 3D Mario games with very few improvements. This collection doesn’t even live up to its name. The original Super Mario All-Stars on SNES had 4 16-bit remakes of the NES/Famicom Super Mario Bros games. These games are more like hacked emulated versions.

Super Mario 3d All-Stars includes Super Mario 64 (N64), Super Mario Sunshine (GC), and Super Mario Galaxy (Wii). No Super Mario Galaxy 2. Why? Probably because it would have required a lot of work. Galaxy 1 was already ported to the NVidia Shield, which shares similar architecture with the Switch, so some of the work was already done. Nintendo did close to the bare minimum they could get away with here.

This collection doesn't have much in the way of bonuses either. There's tons of Mario history, concept art, and interviews out there and they didn't put any of it in here. Very disappointing. What did make it in is some loading screen renders and the soundtracks for the 3 games in the collection. The music player doesn't have a pause button or any playlist or shuffle features, so you can't make a playlist of songs from all 3 games or anything like that, but at least it plays music continuously, I guess. That's more than I can say for the music player in some other collections. It also has a mode that lets you keep the music playing with the screen turned off in handheld mode. It's like the one in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, except not as good since you can't skip or control the music in any way.

Super Mario 64
I was really hoping that Super Mario 64 would get some major improvements, but it’s really not even as good as playing it on an emulator on PC. The camera really needs to be modernized. It’s your worst enemy in this game! What this game needs is a remake! Most changes to it are cosmetic, though. The UI has been updated with some ugly smoothing effect, the text is legible on a modern TV now, “So long, big Bowser!” is now just “Ba bye!”, and they added rumble. They also flipped all the camera controls. After all the time they spent teaching us to think of the camera as a character with Lakitu, they just flip it? They don’t give us the option to change them back either. None of these games have control options. Non-inverted camera controls aren’t a big deal to me, I can adapt, you should have the option to play it like it was on N64. It is an emulated game after all.

Mario 64 is the only game in this collection that is not in 16:9. The game runs in 4:3 at 720p and the framerate is capped at 30, just like on N64. Notice I didn’t say runs at 30fps. Thankfully, the game looks much better here than it does on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles. It looks bright and sharp and it’s scaled correctly. This version doesn’t have all the input lag found in the Wii U VC version either. I wish it had the Wii U VC’s save states and button remapping, but it really is the best version of the game that’s ever been re-released.

Super Mario Sunshine
Strangely enough, Super Mario Sunshine is the game that has had the most work put into it. It’s probably the game that will get the least amount of play too! It’s still 30fps, but it runs in full screen 16:9, which the GC version does not, and the UI looks like it’s using higher resolution graphics. It looks really sharp and not like it has some emulator filter on it, like Mario 64’s. All the cutscenes also look like they’ve been touched up a bit.

Sunshine’s camera controls have also been un-inverted, like Mario 64’s. I’m fine with this, but it matters more in a game in which you go into that behind the back mode and spray water on enemies. This game most of all should have control options

And if you were wondering, you can’t really use a GC controller with the Smash Bros adapter to play Sunshine. It works, but not correctly. Since they moved the aiming mode from Y to Right Stick click, you can’t go into that mode at all with a GC controller. And since the shoulder buttons on a GC controller are R and L and not ZL and ZR, like on Switch, your shoulder buttons are flipped and you’re missing the ZL button, which you use to butt stomp and center the camera. The GC controller’s triggers also don’t register a button press until they’re pushed down all the way and click, so would not get the analog water spray or the pivoting water spray mode you got on GC, even if ZR and R were switched. The pivoting water spray mode is mapped to R, though. You’re also missing the Select, Home, Screenshot buttons. It’s basically unplayable with a GC controller.

Super Mario Galaxy
I think Super Mario Galaxy is the best game in this collection, but it’s also the one that got the least updates. It runs at 1080p and 60fps and has some slightly upgraded textures. They’re definitely not on par with most HD games, though. There’s also 3 different ways to play it with all the Switch controllers. And yes, motion controls are 100% required while docked. You can’t even interact with the menus without pointing.

The pointer controls with the Joycons and Pro Controller can get a bit weird, since the Switch has no sensor bar, but they work well enough. The Switch’s pointer functionality is great, but since the controllers can’t tell where the TV is, you have to keep re-centering your cursor if you move around even a little bit. It’s not a big deal, but you have to keep that in mind. Aiming the Pro controller at things is also a bit awkward because you have to use both hands, like a steering wheel or something. I like playing with split Joycons the best. Another thing they did with the controls is that they moved the spin move to a button, so you don’t have to waggle. You can still waggle to spin if you miss the Wii days, though.

Playing Super Mario Galaxy in handheld mode is the worst way to play it as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t support motion controls for anything except the racing sequences. Instead, you have to do everything with the touchscreen. All the menus, collecting Star Bits, shooting Star Bits, and the slingshot stuff require you to use the touchscreen. Taking your hand off the controls is not good! Someone is going to drop and break a Switch doing this!

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is not great as far as game compilations go, but the games are fun and these are definitely the best looking versions of these games. I wish Super Mario Galaxy 2 was in here and they included a bunch of Mario history stuff and control options, but I still think this collection is worth it because the games are so great. I'm still waiting for a Super Mario 64 remake, though.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow Review

Developer/Publisher: Konami
Released On: Nintendo DS in 2003

If you ask me, Aria of Sorrow’s story didn’t need a sequel, what it needed was a prequel. But what we got was Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, a sequel to Aria of Sorrow that doesn’t have anything to do with the most interesting part of Aria of Sorrow’s story, Julius Belmont’s final battle with Dracula in 1999. Dawn of Sorrow is basically Aria of Sorrow with better graphics and sound and some nice improvements, like the map on the DS’s top screen. It’s better than AoS in almost every way, except where it matters most.

The story in a Castlevania game is not super important, but Dawn of Sorrow kind of feels like a filler episode, and that’s very disappointing after Aria of Sorrow, which had one of the best stories in the series. Dawn of sorrow doesn’t add much to Aria’s story or Castlevania lore. I did enjoy the character development that came from talking with Yoko and Hammer, though. The new, generic 2000s anime art style that replaces the Ayami Kojima art really completes the filler episode feel of the game. The main villain of the game, Celia, looks like a bootleg Carmilla, and her henchmen look like a couple of random blokes off the street. The game doesn’t even take place in the real Castlevania. It’s a replica of Castlevania. The real Castlevania is still sealed in the eclipse!

I wouldn’t say the gameplay of dawn of Sorrow is disappointing, it’s actually really great, but it never surpasses Aria of Sorrow or Symphony of the Night. It just feels like a lot of “been there, done that”. Now I understand why Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia went with a more Mario 64-like structure, these games needed to try something different. In DoS, you’re still going from save point to save point and fighting bosses for souls that give you the abilities you need to reach new areas, just like in AoS. The big difference between the two is that DoS doesn’t flow from one area to the next as well as AoS. Maybe it’s that the following areas are farther apart, or that Yoko and Hammer don’t give you hints, like Mina did in AoS, but I definitely did a lot more aimless wandering around in DoS than I did in AoS. Some might like that in a Metroidvania, but I like how Aria of Sorrow flowed much better.

Most of the abilities you get throughout the game don’t feel fresh either. You get pretty much the same stuff as in AoS. There is a new charge attack on the A button, but it’s really not that special. It’s just a strong attack with a long animation. The new traversal ability in DoS is a soul that lets you throw a puppet on the other side of small openings to go through them, and that’s basically SotN’s mist with different graphics. It’s just a key. There are also new obstacles that require you to break them with specific subweapon souls. Doesn’t that just scream creativity? You’re required to break 3 of these in a row to get something for the good ending, so you might have to farm for souls, which is still not fun.

I guess the touchscreen stuff counts as a new ability too. These are by far the worst thing about this game. Since it was an early DS game, they just had to put in something that used the touchscreen. What they came up with was a way to break blocks by scratching the screen and a mechanic that has you drawing magical seals on bosses to deal the final blow. They’re both terrible. There’s only a few block breaking sections, but they require you to switch between scratching and doing stuff with the buttons and that sucks. Drawing magical seals on bosses is definitely the worst of the two. You only get a few seconds to draw increasingly complex patterns on top of bosses to kill them. You don’t have to be perfectly accurate with your drawing, but you do have to do it quickly and it’s really easy to mess up. The worst part is that if you mess it up, the boss regains a bit of health and you have to kill it again!

The Tactical Soul system is pretty much the same as in Aria. You get a subweapon, some kind of traversal ability or familiar, and a buff soul. The new thing about souls is that you get a way to switch loadouts on the fly. You never actually need to switch souls on the fly, though. Strangely enough, they found a way to still make you go to the menu screen to switch between floating and underwater walking by switching the underwater walking ability from a soul to an actual ability! This is the reason why they needed this loadout switching system in the first place!

There’s also something to do with souls you don’t need now. You can go see Yoko and have her fuse a soul with a weapon to upgrade it. It does require you to know what you’re looking for in order to farm the souls later in the game, since the drop rates can be pretty low, but you can make some really powerful weapons with this system.

The graphics are a huge upgrade from Aria of Sorrow. The resolution of the DS screens is still below that of the NES, but it looks much better than the GBA’s 240 x 160. There’s a lot of detail and animation in the backgrounds, new 3D elements in them, and they can use more dark colors, since all models of the DS have backlit screens. All the main characters also have new sprites and they look great. The graphics aren’t as nice as SotN’s, but they’re close enough.

The music is also a huge upgrade over AoS in terms of audio quality. The actual songs are great too, but I don’t know if I’d say they’re better than Aria’s. They both have amazing soundtracks. I especially love the new versions of Bloody Tears and Vampire Killer.

Dawn of Sorrow is a great game and one of the best Castlevanias in the Metroidvania style, but it’s not as good as Aria of sorrow and Symphony of the Night. The graphics and music are great, and the gameplay is still fun, but it doesn’t have as much impact. Especially when you play it right after Aria. It’s just more of the same in a prettier package. It doesn’t do enough to set itself apart from the others, and the touchscreen stuff is horrible.