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SimCity

SimCityThe Game: Players start with a blank slate of a land mass, a budget, and their hopes and dreams. The building of a city begins (usually with a power plant of some kind), a delicate attempt to balance residential, commercial, and industrial space, transportation systems, demands from the public, and tax rates. The city will flourish, stagnate, or empty out and completely fail depending upon the player’s mayoral choices. (Nintendo/Maxis, 1991)

Memories: SimCity started out as a computer game, with all that implies – mouse control, keystroke commands, and complexity that shouldn’t be that easy to boil down into console form. This console port for the SNES, published just a few years after the original DOS PC game’s popularity explosion, is more faithful to its source material than anyone had any reasonable chance to expect. Continue reading

Super Mario Kart

Super Mario KartThe Game: It’s a big day at the races, with a field of drivers selected from the Mushroom Kingdom: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Bowser, and even Donkey Kong Jr. are among the racers vying for the top spot. From the grassy Mushroom course to the punishingly muddy Star course to the oceanside Flower course, there are challenges, hairpin turns and obstacles. Whoever can learn to navigate each course the fastest without ending up out of bounds struggling to get back on the course will be the winner. (Nintendo, 1992)

Memories: At a time when Nintendo could’ve been accused of returning to the well too many times for Super Mario, they instead took a racing game and populated it with a cast from the Mario mythos. The characters are more or less incidental to the game, mere window dressing that was actually added months into the development cycle of a game that started off without them – but it was clearly a shrewd marketing move to include them, as Super Mario Kart became one of the SNES‘ most-loved games. Continue reading

Yoshi

YoshiThe Game: Mario has to keep more plates spinning than usual. With a plate in each hand, Mario must be moved underneath a never-ending onslaught of enemy creatures. The object of the game is to stack up identical creatures to eliminate them from play, and, when possible, to stack up the two halves of Yoshi eggs to allow a new Yoshi to hatch. Management of the creature stacks is vital, since a stack exceeding the height of the play area ends the game. In two-player mode, both players simultaneously try to outdo the other. (Nintendo, 1992)

Memories: Yoshi first appeared in 1990’s Super Mario World on the SNES, but Nintendo was keen to keep the character in the public eye. The result is a game for the NES that looks and feels just a little bit rushed. Continue reading

Super Mario RPG

Super Mario RPGThe Game: The seemingly endless battle between Mario and Bowser continues with the Koopa king’s latest kidnapping of the princess. A fierce battle ensues in Bowser’s castle, ending with what seems like a swift defeat for Bowser, when another combatant appears: a huge sword from the sky impales the castle, driving both Mario and Bowser out and preventing them from returning. Mario has to embark on an extended quest through the Mushroom Kingdom and other realms, gradually accumulating a band of locals to help him fight his way through the perils he meets along the way. He has to recover the seven pieces of the Star Road before he can resume his battle against the Smithy Gang bent on taking over his world. (Nintendo / Square, 1996)

Memories: An unlikely joint project between ’90s RPG powerhouse Square and Nintendo, this game took the universe of Super Mario Bros. and overlaid it on the action RPG structure that both companies had made famous and evolved over the previous decade. As strange as it was to try to get one’s head around a Mario game with a combat system and a “special items” menu, Super Mario RPG actually works beautifully.

Super Mario RPGAnd it doesn’t look or sound bad either – for quite a while, this was the gold standard for a game set in the Marioverse; even later attempts to drag Super Mario Bros. into 3-D rendered graphics on the N64 didn’t have the beauty and level of detail in Super Mario RPG. The music is hummable and drags you into the game’s world effectively, and only refers to the well-worn tunes from previous entries in the Super Mario franchise occasionally. So many Mario games had spent so much time making inside-joke references to the previous games in the series that Super Mario RPG was a novelty simply because of how much it didn’t do that.

As a game play experience, it’s effective and addictive. A simple menu system makes good use of the ocean of buttons on the SNES controller, and it quickly gets to be second nature, which is a good thing – even during the turn-based combat segments, players can affect the outcome of their battles with carefully timed control combos, keeping the turn-based fights from being a boring necessity. The non-combat majority of the game is free-flowing, Super Mario RPGnicely animated, and just plain pretty to look at. Even with the N64’s superior graphics hardware, it would be a long time before a Mario game came along to top this one.

With this gourmet recipe for greatness, it was therefore only natural that Square and Nintendo had a parting of the ways after Super Mario RPG, primarily over Square’s desire to carry its Final Fantasy franchise over to the then-new Sony Playstation. The result was that it would be five years before there was a successor to Super Mario RPG, and even then it couldn’t use the same structure, conventions and characters from the previous game. The resulting Paper Mario series has become a success in its own right, but the debate continues as to whether Super Mario RPGor not it’s ever attained the shining-moment-of-greatness that Super Mario RPG was for so many years – when this game arrived on the Wii Virtual Console, it was a Big Deal to those who remembered it so fondly.

5 quarters!Super Mario RPG was a singular event in the development of the Super Mario franchise, offering a fresh take on the familiar characters and settings, while introducing an entire world’s worth of new places and characters. In many ways it’s still one of the high points.

Mario Kart Super Circuit

Mario Kart: Super CircuitThe Game: It’s a big day at the races, with a field of drivers selected from the Mushroom Kingdom: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Bowser, and even Donkey Kong Jr. are among the racers vying for the top spot. From the grassy Mushroom course to the punishingly muddy Star course to the oceanside Flower course, there are challenges, hairpin turns and obstacles. Whoever can learn to navigate each course the fastest without ending up out of bounds struggling to get back on the course will be the winner. (Nintendo, 2001)

Memories: A better-than-merely-passable handheld version of Super Mario Kart, this game may actually exceed its inspiration by offering new environments, new drivers and other neat twists. For the most part, it’s a genuine improvement. Continue reading

Wii Play

Wii PlayThe Game: Wii Play gathers a collection of mini-games in one place, from fishing, billiards and target shooting to a futuristic hockey game and tank battles, each showcasing different ways that the Wii remote controls Buy this gamecan be used. (Nintendo, 2007)

Memories: As with Wii Sports, Wii Play is an easy-to-pick-up but hard-to-put-down grouping of fairly simple minigames. Some of the games in Wii Play simulate real sports, while others delve into more abstract areas of game play. That’s the good news, and the even better news is that just about all of them are fun, making this another all-in-one first-party home run for Nintendo – if anyone knows a dozen different ways to use the Wii controllers, it should be the folks who made the things. Continue reading

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