Yoshi's Island: Super Mario World 2 (SNES)

Here's the first of the games I replayed after replacing the battery, and it was magical how as soon as I fired the game up I felt my cynicism melt away. I don't want to spend too much time reminding the world Yoshi's Island is brilliant, so I'd actually like to talk about optional challenges and how Yoshi's Island does them right. With Yoshi's Wooly World around the corner, I keep hearing the cop-out argument "Oh, you can make your own experience! You can run to the ends of the levels no problem, but if you want a challenge you can find all the secrets!" Except you have to give me a reason to want to do the optional stuff, and you do that by creating a solid main game. The optional content in Yoshi's Island is like the gravy on a turkey dinner, in that it makes a good thing fantastic. When you relegate all the challenge to optional side missions, that's like pouring the gravy over rice crackers, or a turd in the worst of cases. Basically, you have to answer the question of why I shouldn't just pop in another game.

Also, I never understood everyone's problem with Poochy Ain't Stupid. Do they not realize they can make Poochy stay in place by rapidly changing direction, or what? I got all the stuff on my second time through and it isn't half the blood vessel buster that Kamek's Revenge is. And this is coming from somebody who took way too long to realize you don't have to wait for Raphael the Raven to stop over a hole before pounding a stake up his ass.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan (Game Boy)

Yeah, this game filled me with so much apathy that I couldn't even be arsed to get a screenshot from the actual game. Hell, I'm not even sure why I'm doing a quickie for it when I can summarize my thoughts in one picture. You walk right, constantly stopping to knock out a foot soldier in one blow, and continue until you reach the end of the level. I made it to the final level before I died for the first time, because that's when the game finally wants you to add jump kicks to your repertoire. Side-scrolling brawlers are already one of the two armpits of video game genres (alongside sports games), and this is braindead even by their standards. Sure, it's mildy impressive how Konami managed to recreate the style of the TV show on the Game Boy, but doing so required huge sprites, which consequently makes the turtles fucking huge targets.


Yoshi's New Island (3DS, E10+)

I knew I was in for a treat when the first thing this game did was shit all over Yoshi's Island's ending. Oh, did you think the parents were holding Mario and Luigi over their heads in pride? Nope, they were giving them back to the stork because he delivered them to the wrong house! What then follows is a souless and mindless imitation of the game it shat all over, from the set pieces to the enemies to the poses and animations. Even the final battle with Baby Bowser is the same as in Yoshi's Island, only without the urgency of beating him before he smashes the field. And then it makes you do the same thing against adult Bowser because fuck you. As for collecting all the flowers and coins, remember what I said in the Yoshi's Island quickie about how optional content should work? Well, this game is a turd, and no amount of gravy, barbeque sauce, or ranch dressing is going to unturd this turd.

As well as being in the running for worst game of the year, Yoshi's New Island is in the lead for worst soundtrack of the year, with much of the music sounding like somebody farting through a kazoo.

If Yoshi's Island was perfect for draining cynicism this game is perfect for regaining it, and the only thing that saved it from a 0 Skitty rating is it still isn't as insultingly awful as that game.


Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360, M)

When I initially completed the first Mass Effect I was blown away by it, but in the following months I found more and more flaws in it; a lot of the dialogue was characters stiffly vomiting their life stories at you, most of the game's enemies were robots, a lot of the side missions took place in the same facility with the shelves moved around, and while I have to give it credit for ambition it basically felt like Bioware didn't have a grasp on what they wanted the game to be yet. And the shooty bits were more frustrating than they should have been because choosing the Vanguard class was a punch in the stomach for a first time player. Mass Effect 2 improves on its predecessor in almost every aspect and it's held up much better as I've reflected on it and yes, when given the chance I switched over to Infiltrator class and quickly fell in love with the sniper rifle.

I also recall in ME1 any equipment I could afford was inferior to what I'd already found in one of the missions, so I had a ton of money I couldn't spend until I finally unlocked the Spectre gear. ME2 changes it so you have one set of equipment for the game and you instead purchase upgrades for that gear. Mass Effect 2 also has more impactful moments including one towards the end of the game I won't spoil but past players know what I'm talking about, and it has a much more impressive final boss than its predecessor.

While most of the universe was established in the first game, ME2 introduces several new squadmates but the loyalty missions help their characters play out more organically than ME1 and its endless textdumps about Kaiden psychokinetically killing an abusive guardian. Sure, there's still lots of shit shooting, but Samara's tales of hunting down her murderous daughter means more when you actually join her on a mission to do it. And even the talky bits flow better now that Joker's no longer the only character with a sense of humor. I remember ME1 being played mostly if not totally straight, but ME2 features shops that sell alien porno magazines, that foul-mouthed Asarian barmaid, and even Paragon Shepard is more of a smartass this time around. Guess it's time to see how Mass Effect 3 ruins everything.

As for the "almost" qualifier, I preferred driving the tank around to scanning planets and launching probes. I didn't mind the scanning as much as I probably should have, but as one of the only people who actually enjoyed the Mako, it was definitely a step back.

And yes, as soon as I learned you could pick your armor colors I intentionally colored my Shepard like a Blaster Master character. Even more reason to be sad they took the tank out.


Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)

Way back when I first learned about emulators, Super Mario RPG was one of the first games I went through on ZNES. This game actually had a heavy influence on my early website years, alongside Neglected Mario Characters (hell, the SMRPG influence might have been twofold, since NC itself was probably inspired by it). So on one hand this game is deeply rooted in my history, but on the other hand playing this game brought back embarrassing memories of some of the awful shit I squirted out all those years back.

But let's try to talk about the game itself. Super Mario RPG is great for when you want a simple, RPG quickplay, since the game was geared towards a less RPG-experienced audience and the mechanics are more streamlined than Square's other RPGs of the time. I was also a bit surprised when, after only a few hours of play, I already had four of the seven stars. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, since it's not like every RPG needs to be 40 hours long. I just didn't remember the game being as short as it was. I'm hesitant to say it's for kids since a couple of the boss battles will smack you up and down the Star Road if you're not prepared, and some of the humor is strangely risque for a Mario game, like finding Toadstool's unmentionables in a dresser or Valentina shaking her rack in battle. And the colorful light-heartedness makes for a strong contrast when you finally reach Smithy's factory and things turn dismal.

Now, saying this seems to have already caught me some shit, but those Loony Tunes-esque moments were Mario relays information about past events to an NPC by pantomiming it? Those simply do not do anything for me. I understand the intent to riff on how a silent protagonist communicates with other characters, but for me they're like when a Disney movie pads itself out with a musical number - I already saw what happened when Mario approached Bowser's castle after the sword fell, I don't need to see it acted out two more times! Or maybe they only make me uncomfortable because they subconsciously remind me of my sprite comic years. Who knows.


Yoshi's Story (Nintendo 64)

Well folks, I never thought I'd see the day where I'd be using this to cleanse my palette, but here we are! Recent developments have made me slightly more charitable towards this game than I used to be, but it still isn't very good. The game is incredibly short and easy, the levels are structureless messes, putting most of the fruit in bubbles fucks up the pacing, the music is a bunch of obnoxious ways of playing the same obnoxious song, and what minute difficulty this game has comes from the worst controls ever, what with the brilliant choice to use an analog stick to control a 2D platformer and its stiff flutter jump. And for some stupid reason, the game requires you to push the analog stick slightly up or down to get Yoshi to move faster than an arthritic old man...

... or so I thought. It was only after clearing all 24 levels that I learned an N64 analog stick isn't supposed to flop around like a deflated balloon, and that the Mario Party spinning minigames had completely obliterated my controller's analog stick. After locating a controller with a good stick I gave Yoshi's Story a run with it, and you know how a functioning controller affects Yoshi's Story?

It makes the game even easier.

I didn't complete this game will all melons, and anyone who has a problem with that can go stuff a can of fruit cocktail up their ass.


Pokemon Blue (Game Boy)

Embarrassing confession time! I had never legitimately beaten Pokemon Red or Blue before now. Oh, I'd beaten Red, after Gamesharking the hell out of it so my starter was Mewtwo and I had a Nidoqueen with Psychic. When the batteries in all my Pokemon games (except Yellow, strangely) died I figured it was as good as any a time to fix that. Okay, I used the Fly glitch to obtain a Mew, and the Seafoam Islands trick to catch a Tauros because fuck the Safari Zone, but I even managed to resist duping TMs and the Master Ball.

As for the game itself, it's actually a lot more playable than I thought it would be. It has plenty of kinks that got ironed out in sequels, namely the twin clusterfucks that are your Inventory and Pokemon Boxes, faster Pokemon being able lock you down with trapping and Sleep moves, and the Psychic type being utterly broken thanks to a lack of Ghost and Bug attacks even without the glitch that makes Psychic immune to Ghost. And yes, the Pokemon sprites are horrendous. But despite the balance issues it's perfectly playable, even easy once you get a balanced team (heck, I got through everything after Celadon City with only five Pokemon - Charizard, Gyarados, Jolteon, Nidoqueen, and Hypno, plus a Spearow for Flying. And the Nidoqueen went largely unused), and Sabrina wasn't anywhere near as hard as she used to be. And as a bonus, I even managed to catch the legendary birds in Ultra Balls for the first time in my life.


Nine Goblins (T. Kingfisher, Kindle eBook)

There are moments while reading Nine Goblins where you'd be forgiven for thinking you stumbled on a long lost Discworld. The way the book plays with logic and fantasy tropes, particularly how goblins complaining about something is actually a compliment because it means they actually give a shit is straight out of a Pratchett novel. Although Nine Goblins is a bit cruder than any Discworld I've seen, given the elf character is introduced with him covered in a unicorn's shit with his arm his up its hoohaa helping it with a breech birth. Unless Terry Pratchett's widow finds a stache of manuscripts he didn't want the world to see (too soon?).

Discworld comparisons aside, it's a pretty enjoyable little comedy fantasy, which makes it all the more jarring when about three-quarters through the goblins enter the ghost town and things take a turn for holy fucking shit. I also found the resolution lacking, and not just because I wanted the witch to die horribly for what she did to everything in that town (especially to all the town's cats... can you tell I hate it when bad things happen to cats in fiction?). It felt like the story was supposed to keep going, like Kingfisher sat down to write a full novel, made it halfway through, then her editors sped up the deadline or her house caught fire or something and she just turned it what she had.


Pokemon Silver (Game Boy Color)

And on the subject of Pokemon confession, I had never beaten any of the Gen II games before now. The closest I came was reaching Kanto in Crystal, but I couldn't figure out how to get to Pewter City and never beat the game's final boss. Having finally done so, I don't know how to describe it except Pokemon Red and Blue cleaned up a bit. Additional Ghost and Bug moves as well as the Dark type were added to check Psychics, Pokemon can wake up and attack on the same turn, and the inventory was cleaned up a bit, although the less than generous space in your main item sack is still there to irritate you.

One thing I always hear people praise about GSC is about how cool it is that you can visit Kanto of Red and Blue after beating the Elite Four, so it's like there's two games in one. Except you don't do much in Kanto. This isn't like Dragon Warrior III where you practically replay Dragon Warrior I at one point. In fact, many of the Kanto areas have either been sealed off or shortened. You solve a couple puzzles involving a power plant and a train, rush through all the gym leaders, and then take on the final boss at the end of a bizarrely short two-room final dungeon. And let me tell you, there are few things more disheartening than your first shot at the final boss ending with you getting owned by a fucking Pikachu.

I'm also convinced the roaming beasts were Nintendo/Game Freak trying to come up with a worse idea than the Safari Zone. Maybe catching all three in Ultra Balls should give me bragging rights, but I think there's a difference between overcoming a challenge and tolerating bullshit.