Review – The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA) – A Very Good Zelda Game

Yes, it’s an actual real update!  I’m glad to have written a review again.

  • Title: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (US/EU), Zelda no Densetsu: Fushigi no Boushi (Japan)
  • Developer: Flagship
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Platform: Game Boy Advance
  • Released: November 2004 (Japan / Europe), January 2005 (US)
  • Genre: Action-Adventure


The Legend of Zelda series is one of my favorites in gaming, but there are some Zelda games I’ve never gotten around to finishing. Until recently, this game was one of those, as I’d started it but stopped early on, but while watching the 2018 Olympics I played through the rest of this game and decided to review it along the way. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is an overhead action-adventure game for the GBA which released somewhat late in the system’s short life, after the Nintendo DS had already released. This game was the second, or sort of third, game that resulted from a partnership between Capcom and Nintendo to develop some Zelda games at Flagship, a Capcom/Nintendo joint-run studio that Capcom merged into its main company a few years after this game release.  Flagship’s first Zelda games were The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, two paired Game Boy Color games that released in mid 2001. I like those games a lot, so I was interested to see what Flagship would do next with Zelda.  Then they worked on the Four Swords part of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past / Four Swords for the GBA.  That multiplayer-only linear-levels topdown multiplayer action game has some good ideas, but its link-cables-required, local multiplayer-only nature is a big problem which made it very hard to play then, ever mind now.  Several years later, Flagship finally released a second main-series Zelda game, but while it did okay, it didn’t make quite the impression that Nintendo was hoping. The game sold well and got good reviews, but has since been somewhat forgotten. Even at the time reactions were somewhat mixed, though. Indeed, looking back at some old posts I made online back in 2004-05 about this game, I went from initial interest, to not even buying the game until at least five years after its release, and not finishing it until, well, this month. And I was far from the only person who overlooked or passed on this game at the time. Playing it now, though, it’s good! The Minish Cap has issues, but I do think that I, and many other people, under-rated this game.

Story and Controls

The Minish Cap is a traditional overhead 2d-style Zelda game. As with the Oracles games, the controls, interface, and world design of Minish Cap take heavy inspiration from Link’s Awakening, which, in my opinion, is a very good thing even if none of those elements quite match LA’s greatness. The story is as familiar as the gameplay. Unfortunately though, it has none of LA’s genius. You play as Link, and need to save Hyrule from evil Vaati. Your partner character this time is a sentient hat, which talks and can change your size. The terrible-as-usual sexist story has you saving Zelda, who has been turned to stone in what would prove to be the first of two consecutive times in handheld Zelda games. Just because this kind of really bad, sexist storytelling is common doesn’t make it okay, though. This game has plenty of amusing writing in it, but the core story is, yet again, unforgivably awful. All three (two?) Flagship Zelda games have extremely basic “rescue the princess” storylines, which is too bad when they clearly are able to write some decent and often amusing stuff for the many side characters that populate these games. The only “unique” thing in the plot is that the main villain here is Vaati, from the Four Swords games, and not Ganon. This is Vaati’s only appearance in a traditional Zelda game, and it is kind of interesting to see him in a regular Zelda game.

The controls are inspired by Link’s Awakening’s, with a few additions for the GBA’s two additional shoulder buttons. As in that game, you can assign any of your items to the A and B buttons, so once again your sword and shield are not locked to buttons like they are in other Zelda games, you just assign them like any of your other items. The other items include some returning favorites and some new ones. My favorite new item is the air-blast item, which the game uses quite often to good effect. The R button is standardized, though, as it is used for a roll move, and also for grabbing and pulling things. Jumping requires an item you get deep into the game, but rolling is a default move locked to a button? It is a little odd to have this one function locked to a button, and it might have been nice for R to be customizable too. Still, it works this way and the roll is a good move. The L button’s usage is not as successful, however. This button is locked to a function too: this trades Kinstones with the person or object in front of you, if you can do so. I will get into what Kinstones are soon, but in short they are items you collect and trade with characters, in return for unlocking things in the world. I’m not a big fan of this element of the game, and it is a significant part of it. Kinstone trading is a big part of this game, but it’d have been great to have another button for general use, and to put this function somewhere else. For the controls overall though, I have some issues with the functions on both shoulder buttons, but otherwise Minish Cap controls great. As always in Nintendo-published Zelda games the controls are very responsive, and Link moves around and items all work just as they should. I really like how you can assign the A and B buttons freely, as well.

Oh, there is also one other way you interact with the world in this game. As fitting for a game with Four Sword’s villain in it, The Minish Cap has a Four Sword component. This game is single player only, but when you stand on certain floor tiles and hold down the sword button until it fully charges, keep the button held down, and move onto other tiles, you will create clones. You start with only one Link, but as you proceed you will eventually get up to four. It’s kind of annoying that you need to hold down the attack button for so long before you are able to split, but the game makes good use of dividing yourself in many puzzles through the game, both simple and quite tricky.

General Gameplay

In the gameplay, The Minish Cap, again, is a traditonal 2d Zelda game, but with some more modern updates. I won’t describe this in full detail, as most readers are probably familiar with Zelda gameplay. In short though, this means that you explore a sizable world, including a large town full of many people in the center, and various zones surrounding that town. You wander around the world collecting stuff, fighting enemies, talking to people, and solving puzzles. At certain points you’ll go into dungeons in this world, and in dungeons, and sometimes outside of them, you will get new items to add to your inventory. These items include some old ones and some new. You then use your items, and swordfighting skills, to figure out the way forward and kill the monsters barring your way. Combat is central to the game, and again, it’s great! The enemies are varied, and you will need not only your sword and shield but also many items in order to effectively fight all of them. It’s a familiar formula, and The Minish Cap executes on it very well. Flagship’s experience and skill with the franchise shows through in many ways, from the puzzles, to the new items, to the fun dungeons, and more.

The issue of originality is worth discussing, though. Flagship’s Zelda games are very good, but they do not have the same spark of originality that you see in most of Nintendo’s Zelda games. They execute on the standard Zelda formula very well, and have a few new ideas in terms of items and the world, but for the most part this game and the Oracles titles stick to formula. I appreciate innovation, and Nintendo has done some fascinating things as the Zelda seres has evolved. However, traditional 2d and Ocarina of Time-inspired 3d Zelda are some of my favorite kinds of games, so while this is an issue worth mentioning and I have criticized Flagship for this before, I also think that their games are great, because the classic Zelda formula is one of gaming’s best! And on that note, this game keeps the standard Zelda item-collection system, of getting them in dungeons as mentioned, and does not mess with that as Nintendo’s more recent titles have. I, at least, prefer things as Minish Cap does them. I’d rather progressively get items permanently as I go through a game, then have to rent them as you see in A Link Between Worlds, or just be given them all at the start as you see in Breath of the Wild. This game isn’t necesarily better than those are, it has some faults for sure. I’m just saying that in terms of game design for Zelda games, I think the standard item-collection formula is great, and I’ve never been one of those wanting the series to drastically change.

The World of the Minish

And this game does have one significant unique gameplay element to it, beyond a few unique items of course. Now, having two worlds has been a common feature in most Zelda games since A Link to the Past, but The Minish Cap takes a unique take on it, as instead of travelling through time, as previously mentioned you can shrink and see the world from the ant-sized proportions of the tiny, and eponymous, Minish! As in Oracle of Seasons you can only switch sizes at certain, predetermined points here, and this is important for many puzzles in the game, and you will spend most of your time full-sized, but still the size-change mechanic works well and adds to the game. Figuring out how to progress through the world in small form makes for some fun puzzles as you try to figure out how to reach some Minish areas and find out what is there.

However, in addition to playing as a couple of pixels on the regular map, sometimes the game zooms in and you play as regular-sized Link in a tiny world. Unfortunately I have issues with this element of the game, as it badly lacks variety. On the better side, there is one Minish town, near one Minish-scale dungeon that isn’t very different from the other ones, early in the game. There are also some caves to find where you fight bugs and such. However, the rest of the Minish areas come from two often-repeated formulas. First, there are single-room Minish houses, which have a Minish or two in them to talk to. These are usually pointless except for Kinstone fusion, though a few have actual useful hints. And second, there are entirely straight scrolling paths. The visuals here are kind of nice, as you see giant grass leaves and such, but in gameplay terms they are incredibly basic: you either go straight up and down, or straight left and right. None of these have a single bend, which is pretty weird, and most are short and present minimal challenge and have few obstacles in them. I like the size-change concept, and it’s great to have some areas where you see the world from a tiny perspective, but why are these areas so incredibly simplistic?

While the size-change idea was new for a Zelda game, the idea of having two worlds fits to formula. Flagship did try some original things in The Minish Cap, though, both good and bad. On the positive side, the game has some pretty interesting new items to get which the game makes good use of, particularly perhaps the wind-shooting item. For anyone who hasn’t played the game I don’t want to spoil them all, but it’s great that Flagship did not just reuse old items but came up with some good new ideas. Neutrally, the game has collectables — those Kinstones — that actually change the state of the world, And somewhat more questionably, Flagship made a 2d Zelda game with a difficulty level much closer to The Wind Waker than its 2d forbears. On that last note, probably the most common complaints about The Minish Cap are that the game is short, easy, and has a small world. These criticisms are largely accurate, as the game has only six dungeons, is the easiest 2d Zelda game ever made by a good margin, and will not take many hours to finish. Even so, I found the game quite fun while it lasted, playing it this time around at least.

The Overworld

The overworld is a major component of every Zelda game, and this one is no exception. The scale of that world is a definite issue I want to discuss, however. At first, The Minish Cap’s world seems to be shockingly small. You go up just a couple of areas at the start, and you’ve already explored a good chunk of the map! However, while the world feels small, it is not as limited in scope as it may appear. The side areas add some decent size to the game, and the map screen makes things look smaller than they are due to its dual-layer design — there is a single-screen map of all the areas, from which you can enter to view detailed maps of every section of the game. It’s a great, and very detailed, map screen which is incredibly useful throughout the game.

Still, you can get across this world quickly. Why is that, though? Estimating going by the map, I think that the world here is about 16 by 16 screens, so it’s not as small as it seems. There are probably two major reasons for this. First, the game spreads things out, with large buildings and fields that take up lots of space. And second, this game is, again, a lot easier than other 2d Zelda games. Where it’s easy to die a hundred times in the 2d Zelda games before this one, this time dying even ten times in the whole game is unlikely if you’re a moderately skilled gamer. I did die sometimes, and more often than I did through most of The Wind Waker, but this is probably the second-easiest Zelda game after that one. As a result of both of these factors, while there are surely a lot more tiles in this overworld than there are in Link’s Awakening, or even the Oracles games, it probably won’t take as long to explore through. Even so, as in those games this overworld is segmented. As you explore you will see many points where you will need to return later with an item you don’t have yet in order to proceed that way. As you get items you will unlock new areas, shortcuts to get to areas of the map more quickly, and more. All Zelda games do this in some way, but the style here is very reminiscent of LA and the Oracles games, and it’s fun and satisfying to reach new areas and unlock those quicker paths.

That aforementioned more spread-out feel to it that makes this world feel smaller than it is, though. I think that The Minish Cap’s world is in a middle ground between Link to the Past’s very ‘open’-feeling world and Link’s Awakening’s very closed and segmented one. Personally I much prefer the more segemented style of Link’s Awakening over the more open style of A Link to the Past, but I’d imagine fans of either one won’t prefer this over those. I like that the world is more broken up than LttP’s boring grid-of-squares world is, though. However, in my opinion the Kinstone element holds this world back, as I will get to.

So this is definitely not one of the best of the Zelda overworlds, but even so, it is a good one. The central town is large and there is a lot to do in it, first. There are people to talk to, puzzles to solve, some minigames to play, and more. I had fun exploring this version of Hyrule, and the size of the world is just about right for this somewhat short game. Of the side areas, the mountain may have been the most fun to explore, as it has a good balance between exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat. After that, finding out how to reach all of the tiny Minish-world areas in the central town was also a highlight. The world in the sky is interesting as well. Some areas aren’t as well utilized though, such as a graveyard that is oddly large for how little time you spend there. Floating around and finding new areas is fun in that classic Zelda way; there’s nothing like a Zelda game for having some of the best exploration gameplay around!

Kinstones the Overworld’s Collection Quests

I do need to discuss those Kinstones, though. Starting a bit into the game, you will start to collect items called Kinstones. You get piles of these things, and can trade them with people and, in some cases, objects, scattered around the world by pressing L when you are standing next to someone who has a Kinstone thought bubble appear by them when you’re nearby. Each character you can trade with has one half of a kinstone, and you need to match that with one of your own. There are eight or so generic kinstone types you will collect to trade with most characters, plus about ten special one-time-use ones you will use for game-critical puzzles. In total there are about 100 kinstone matches in this game, if you want to find them all. You can only trade with each character once, as once you match kinstones with someone, something will happen in the world. The plot-critical ones open up key paths you will need to go through after matching kinstones.

The other, regular Kinstone matches give you some kind of item reward, but you’ll have to go and get it. Rewards vary from a treasure chest appearing somewhere, to ground appearing that allows you access to a previously inacessible cave, to a small lake draining giving you access to a treasure-filled cave, and more. Helpfully, after matching kinstones the point where this change has appeared is marked on the map, so you won’t forget which kinstone unlocks you haven’t gotten yet. There are no map markers for characters you haven’t matched kinstones with yet, unfortunately, so you’ll just need to wander around a lot or use a guide if you want to completely fill out the map and find all of them. I won’t be trying to do that, though, as a lot of these rewards are not too useful. Sometimes you will get good stuff like shortcuts or heart containers, but other times you get … a kinstone. For your kinstone and time. Great. Rupee rewards lose their value past the mid-game as well, as once you’ve bought the more expensive items there is really nothing else to do with the things. Also, I don’t like the idea of a Zelda game with this amount of fetch-quest backtracking in it, if you want to actually have a complete world map — after all, as since every kinstone match puts something new on the map, even if you’ve explored everything, you need to find all of the things to see the “real” map. That’s a very grindey game element to tack on to this game. On the one hand it’s good that there is something here to keep you playing, as the short and mostly easy main game won’t keep you playing for more than ten-something hours. Trying to find all the kinstones will take a lot longer than that, unless you look up their locations online. However, adding lots of fetch quest grinding to your game isn’t the best way to add replay value to a game, and I just don’t like a Zelda game where so much of the world is hidden unless I do a LOT of fetch quests! Even if most of that stuff isn’t important, I want to know what it is… but don’t really want to spend the time wandering around to find every match. Bah.

Oh, on a final side note in this section, in addition to kinstones, The Minish Cap has one other somewhat grindey collection element. As you play you will get shells. These can be spent at a shop that unlocks in town later in the game which essentially is a gatcha machine. That is, you spend shells, and get a random figurine reward as a result. The more shells you spend, the more likely it is that you get a new figure and not one you have already. There are 120 figures to collect, so while it’s easy to get a bunch of them, collecting them all will be a frustrating, and entirely random, task. It’s easy to get shells, but going through those text boxes at the gatcha shop takes a tediously long amount of time; collecting these figures is a big time-waster even if you have lots of shells, and the more you get the less often you get new ones. Fortunately I don’t care much about collecting all of these things, but people who want them all might be frustrated here. Of all the collection things in Zelda games this is one of the least fun to get.

The Dungeons

In addition to the overworld, the other major component of a Zelda game are the dungeons. There are only six dungeons, but they’re all fun to explore. As in the overworld, dungeons have a mixture of old and new puzzle and combat elements, as the new and old items are both used. Each dungeon heavily uses the item you get in that dungeon, but many items are used in multiple dungeons, which is nice; in some Zelda games you only use an item in its dungeon and then almost never after, but while some items here are like that more are widely used. As for the dungeon designs, they are linear, and don’t match up to the best Zelda dungeons but do have plenty of good moments in them. Jumping around in the sky dungeon’s a fun challenge, for example. Combat scenarios such as facing off against the games’ heavily armored knights is also pretty fun, once you figure out how to fight them. And more.

However, As with everything about The Minish Cap, the dungeons here are relatively few and mostly won’t put up the kind of fight you might expect from a 2d Zelda game. This game is quite fun while it lasts, but it is the easiest 2d Zelda game and that is quite noticeable here. The lack of challenge comes from multiple fronts. You don’t take a lot of damage when you’re hit, it’s easy to get a lot of hearts in this game, and most enemies are much less threatening than they are in earlier 2d Zelda games. However, I did have fun most of the time, and the game does present a challenge sometimes. I did die once in a while, and this game is not nearly as kind as 3d Zelda games from The Wind Waker or beyond when you do, as you get sent back to the beginning of the dungeon. Dungeons do have one, or usually two, warp points in them, so you aren’t stuck redoing dungeons all the way from the beginning every time you die as A Link to the Past annoyingly requires, though, so it’s balanced fairly well. I think the punishment for dying here is just about right. Also, some enemies hit harder, and in dungeons hearts are not always plentiful; there are always certain points that always drop hearts, but you may not be near those areas when you need them, so there are moments of tension. You can get some healing items, but this is limited by the number of bottle items you have collected. I only got two of the possible four that are hidden away in the game, so the final boss fight particularly was nicely challenging due to limited health and enemies which hit somewhat hard.

Even so, with only about six dungeons, four for four elements and a few others at key moments, this game has fewer dungeons than other 2d Zelda games do. Several 3d Zelda games from this era also have six or fewer dungeons, including both Majora’s Mask and The Wind Waker, but it’s just as unfortunate here as it is in The Wind Waker. It doesn’t feel like the game is unfinished as The Wind Waker kind of does, though, particularly with its ‘there should be a dungeon here’ moment; The Minish Cap just feels like it was designed to be a short game, with optional collection elements padding it out for people who want to spend more time with it. That works, and the results are pretty good, but a bit more substance might have been nice. Still, I like what dungeons this game has.

Graphics and Sound

The Minish Cap is, for the most part, a good-looking game. The regular-scale world has a pretty standard cartoony Zelda look. The game has a strong cartoony art style, with a light color palette that fits the GBA’s screen well. Remember, with an original GBA dark palettes can be very hard to see so the lighter palette is appreciated. This games’ look is definitely not my favorite Zelda artstyle, not even close, but it’s a fine looking game with that Zelda style to it. I’ve always had one complaint about The MInish Cap’s visuals, though, and it’s that some of the Minish-scale stuff looks … off, somehow, to me. The giant leaves and such look much more realistic than the rest of the graphics, and the contrast doesn’t work for me. This has always bothered me about The Minish Cap.

Aurally, The Minish Cap has a good soundtrack, but a lot of the tracks are classic Zelda songs reused again. It’s a great soundtrack of course, but is far from original. The limited audio capabilitites of the GBA hold it back as well.


In conclusion, I may have complained about this game a lot in this review, but I really do think that The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is a very good to great game. It may have a lot of little issues, from graphical weirdness to seriously lacking challenge and length, the somewhat small-feeling world, and the annoying collection-quest elements, but it also has fantastic gameplay, just about perfect play control, a solid mix of old and new puzzle and action elements, fun dungeons, a mostly good look, and more. The good and bad are both significant here, but overall the strengths much outweigh the downsides of this game. I think I will give it an A- score, which is good, but not quite on par with the best Zelda games. That is probably about the right place for it. Any classic Zelda fan who hasn’t played The Minish Cap absolutely should! It’s a very fun, ten-ish hour experience you will probably enjoy. If you don’t like Zelda this one won’t change your mind on that, but for most The Minish Cap is well worth a try. Know about its downsides, but don’t let them stop you from playing it.

Posted in Full Reviews, Game Boy Advance, Modern Games, Reviews | Leave a comment

Small article update

In the WiiWare / Wii VC Recommendations List ( I fixed a few minor text issues and, more importantly, added comments about what I think about most of the titles I have for WiiWare.  It’s a small but, I think, nice addition to this list.

Let this also serve as a reminder that there are only a few months left to add points to buy WiiWare games with to your Wii accounts, and some of those games are pretty good, so buy them while you can!

Posted in Modern Games, Nintendo Wii, Updates | Tagged | Leave a comment

Game of the Year 2017

So it’s game of the year time again, and despite all they have said about what a great year this is for games, the gaming press has a pretty much consensus choice for 2017’s best game: Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s won from IGN, Gamespot, Kotaku, etc, etc; nothing else is remotely close. Games like Mario, Horizon, PUBG, and such don’t have many GOTY awards yet, though I’m sure they will get them from somewhere. (Giant Bomb hasn’t announced their winner yet, but for some time now PUBG has been the one they’re most likely to have picked. I guess we’ll see though…)

As for me though, while BotW is a pretty good game, it’s certainly not one of my favorites. Sure it’s good, and you can do some pretty interesting things as you explore around the world, but the open-world nature of the game loses me. I’ve never liked open world games much, pretty much ever, and while even I did find wandering around looking for stuff fun for a little while, the game didn’t keep me coming back and I haven’t played it in months now.

Despite that though, this year, for the first time in a long time, I actually played a lot of modern games. Oh, I still love and played a lot of older games, but I got a new PC, a Wii U, and an Xbox One (S) this year, and played lots of games on them, and on my (New) 3DS as well. Indeed, when I looked at the list of games I have that released in 2017, the 3DS dominates the list as far as quality goes. It’s not quite as great as the original DS, but still the 3DS is amazing and one of the best handhelds ever.

That said, I’ve got three lists this year, one for my favorite games I played that released in 2017, second one for my favorite games that I bought in 2017 but are older, and last a short list of the games I think I played the most this year, old or new, games I bought this year or that I already had.


Before I begin, there is one game that definitely would be on my list if I had it and the system it’s for,  Super Mario Odyssey.  The game looks exceptional and if I had a Switch it w*ould almost certainly be my #2 game this year.  There are two other near-definite top 10 titles for 2017 that also are not here because I don’t have them and haven’t played them, Sonic Mania and another Switch game, Splatoon 2.  I got the first Splatoon this year and really loved it, so the sequel is a game I am sure I would love.  And as for Sonic Mania, as a fan of the Genesis Sonic games, it looks awesome, I just haven’t gotten it yet.  With that said though, the list below only includes games I have actually played.

My Favorite Games of 2017 That Released In 2017

1. Starcraft Remastered (PC)  The original Starcraft is my favorite game ever made, and this higher-resolution remaster is the same game, just with better graphics.  What this reminded me is that yes, Starcraft is still the best.  The gameplay is exactly the same as before, the updated graphics look fantastic, and the new auto-matchmaking is a great addition!  If HD remasters count for Game of the Year, this is my pick for sure.

2. Yooka-Laylee (PC)  Yooka-Laylee gets a lot of criticism, but I love this game.  Playtonic did a fantastic game of making a new game in the style of Rare’s classics!  The games’ relatively low budget does show in some ways, including the games’ length, the bad Rextro minigames, and such, but for the most part this is an incredible game.  The levels are fantastically designed, the graphics are great, the soundtrack is exceptional, and more.  This is a true classic, and it’s one of the best 3d platformers in a long time.  It also has the misfortune of releasing in the same year as Mario Odyssey, but still, it’s fantastic!

3. Ever Oasis (3DS) This is a very seriously under-rated action-RPG, and I like it a lot.  This game is from the creator of the Mana series, and I like that series and it has some clear similarities to this title.  Ever Oasis has some issues, but it’s really good and I recommend it.

4. Etrian Odyssey V (3DS) Etrian Odyssey V is a classic-styled dungeon crawler, much like the three DS EO games, but with some interesting new elements in the character skill trees and such.  This is not an innovative game, and I miss some of the stuff EOIV added but this game does not have, but still it’s a fantastic and very addictive game that well deserves being on the top five of this list.

5. Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS) Metroid: Samus Returns is the first new sidescrolling Metroid game in almost 15 years, and it’s great!  Considering the pedigree of this series, that alone should be enough to make a top 10 list, and indeed it is.  This game improves on the original Metroid 2 and adds some great new features as well.  I don’t love the melee attack, but otherwise this game is very good.  Oh, and it looks and sounds great, also.

6. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U) Zelda is one of my favorite game franchises, but I am not an open-world game fan, which is why this game is this far down on my list despite its obvious quality.  I like some things about this game a lot, but it doesn’t grab me like I would like a Zelda game to.  Still, this IS a great game, and I definitely like it.  Finding and solving shrines is pretty fun.

7. Chicken Wiggle (3DS) This is an indie 2d platformer which most people ignored, but actually is a lot of fun.  This is a somewhat slow-paced puzzle-heavy platformer, and traversing the levels with your chicken-and-worm character pair is a lot of fun.  The campaign is pretty good, and the game has a full level editor and online level sharing too!  Given the games’ lack of success there are not as many levels available online as there should be, but there are well over a thousand, at least, some good, so there are lots of levels to play for this game.

8. For Honor (Xbox One) The Middle Ages have always been my favorite historical period, and this is a pretty fun hack and slash third-person action game in a medieval setting.  It’s not the best game ever, but it’s very fun stuff.  It looks really good, and the gameplay has some variety and interesting combat as well.

9. Snake Pass (PC) I love 3d platformers, and this unique one is pretty cool.  Figuring out the snake movement controls takes effort, but it’s worth it.  The game looks nice and making your way through the environments is fun.

10. Parascientific Escape: Crossing at the Farthest Horizon (3DS) This is the third game in this visual novel / graphic adventure / escape-room series, and it’s about as fun as the previous ones.  These are simple and short little games, but I find them interesting and fun.  The story is quite anime, but I’m okay with that and the characters and puzzles are decently good.

Honorable Mention: Cuphead (PC/Xbox One) Cuphead has a fantastic and awesome 1930s cartoon-inspired visual style, and probably largely because of that it is getting a lot of acclaim.  And I do like this game, but I don’t think the gameplay quite matches up to the visual extravaganza.  This is a pretty good game.  It is hard but in a well-balanced way, and it is rewarding when you beat a boss.  However, the sidescrolling levels are not great, the bosses are not all equally amazing,  and such.  I could see moving this game up the list, as I do like it, but even so I am going to put it here in 11th.

Again though, while I like all ten of these games, those bottom three would not make the list if I had played Mario Odyssey, Sonic Mania, and Splatoon 2.  Those three would definitely bump those three down into an Honorable Mentions category.


Second, while it’s not a ranked list, here are all of the older games that I bought in 2017 and I liked enough to mention. These are all games I think of as being probably at least worth an A- grade, though I have finished few so I wouldn’t formally score them of course.

Note: these are not in order at all. Additionally, I do not count games which I bought for one system but previously owned for another platform unless the two games are actually different.

Color Zen (3DS)
Shantae (3DS VC – GBC)
R-Type Dimensions (PS3)
Dark Lord (Famicom)* [Game is only good with translation patch though since I don’t read Japanese]
Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)
Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
Super Mario Maker (Wii U)
Splatoon (Wii U)
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
Kid Icarus Uprising (3DS)
Garou: Mark of the Wolves (360 – Neo-Geo rerelease)
Picross 3D Round 2 (3DS)
Rosenkreuzstillette (PC)
Dishonored 2 (PC)
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (Wii U)
Meteos: Disney Magic (DS)
Puzzle Quest 2 (DS)
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U)
Overwatch (PC and Xbox One)
Gravitar (Atari 2600)
Professor Layton and the Last Spectre (DS)
Rare Replay (Xbox One)
TrackMania Turbo (Xbox One)

If I was also listing games I got for a system but previously owned for another, I’d mention Ikaruga, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, and Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition for the 360, Dead or Alive 5 Last Round and Diablo III for Xbox One, and Geometry Wars 3 for PC and Xbox One, certainly.

Of all these games, the ones I think are the best overall, ranking-wise, are Mario Maker, Mario 3D World, and Splatoon, probably in that order.  The Wii U is a really great console and its best games are among the best ever made.  Rare Replay, Picross 3D Round 2, Overwatch, Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, and Garou: Mark of the Wolves are also very, very high quality games I like a lot.


It is hard to say how much I played any one particular game, because most games do not have ingame clocks saying how much you played them, but here is my attempt at guessing which games I played the most this year. There isn’t one game I know I definitely played a lot more than any other this year, so this list is not prioritized.

Most Played (Guesstimate, Not in Order)

Splatoon (Wii U)
Picross 3D Round 2 (3DS)
Starcraft Remastered (PC)
Overwatch (PC)
Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)
Super Mario Maker (3DS and Wii U versions)
Color Cross (DS)

Beyond that I’m not sure; I’m sure there are dozens of games I put enough hours into to make this list… so I won’t guess.  But those seven are definitely games I played a lot of this year.

… Oh, and I played a fair amount of Minesweeper (PC) too.  It’s still great…

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First Impressions: Ever Oasis (3DS) – This game is great!

This is another first-impressions article, not a review.  It reflects my opinion on the game based on the hours I have put into it so far.  I may still be early in this game, but I have played it enough to get a good handle on the game and know I like it quite a bit.

I have bought a bunch of games in the past few weeks, but of them the one that I have played the most of is probably Ever Oasis for 3DS.  Published by Nintendo, and produced and developed by Koichi Ishii, creator of the Mana franchise, and his studio Grezzo, the team behind the two N64-to-3DS Zelda ports of OoT and MM, this game should have been a much bigger deal than it seems to be. Apparently most people don’t care about the 3DS anymore, Pokemon perhaps excepted, so this really good 2017 release and new IP got overlooked. The game has mixed reviews, but some are good, such as an 8.9 from IGN, for example, but I haven’t seen the game talked about nearly as much as it should. New IPs are hard to be successful with indeed, as the stereotype goes; with the Mana name I’m sure this would have gotten more attention.

Anyway, Ever Oasis is a third-person action-RPG with two elements, adventuring in an Arabian desert-themed environment and building the town in your oasis. You are a special Seedling, and can partner with an oasis water spirit to build a small town around the waterhole in this dry expanse. Your goal is to try to stop Chaos and the monsters it has spawned, which have destroyed all of the other oasises in the desert, including the one you are from. You will meet other, regular Seedlings in your oasis town, but they cannot build oasises of their own, only businesses in your town.

Now, in the games’ box and packaging, they only show and mention the male playable character, but in the actual game you can play as either a male or female character. I have no idea why they hid the female character option from almost all of the games’ marketing, but it’s there. You can’t customize your character choice beyond choosing your gender, and both characters are cute little semi-human things, but it works in the games’ nice, cartoony art style.

Indeed, the graphics in general here are really nice, particularly in 3D. This game fully supports 3d, and as someone who always uses their 3DS with the 3d slider set to maximum, that’s awesome. The 3d effect is really nice and adds to the already good graphics. The charming art design fits with the 3DS’s graphics hardware perfectly, and the desert looks great. I like the way the sand glistens.

As a short aside, on a controls note, the New 3DS (or New 2DS) is definitely recommended for this game, as you can use the right stick to move the camera around. You can’t move the camera at all without a New 3DS, so have one for this game. The New 3DS also duplicates some functions onto ZL and ZR that you’d otherwise have to hit the d-pad or touchscreen for, which is handy. The rest of the controls work with either system — you have two attacks, weak and strong; a dodge-roll; a lock-on button; a button to use your tornado ability; and such.

On that note, in Ever Oasis’s gameplay, the Zelda influence is clear, as is the town-building influence from Animal Crossing and such. You are the mayor of your oasis, and also its protector. Most of your time in this game will be spent exploring the world, which is segmented into areas with dungeons underneath them, but you need to regularly return to your town and manage that as well. When you leave town and enter the overworld, you wander around, attack enemies with your weapon, and such. Enemies and plants will drop materials, which you can use to fulfill quests for people in your town, to build new buildings in town that convince visiting Seedlings to stay permanently, and more. By doing quests for visitors in your town you can get them to stay permanently, so that encourages you to explore. Now, as in most gmaes with monster and plant parts, there is crafting here, but it is thankfully very simple. You just collect stuff and return it to shops which need those things to sell, or to Seedlings to complete a quest, or alternately use them in your crafting area to make items for yourself. There is no guesswork involved in that last one here, though, as the game just tells you what you need to make each item, and if you have the materials and money you can make it. This is about as much crafting as I want in a game, so that’s nice.

So yes, you do a lot of fetch quests in this game. You get benefits, though, not only in health from Rainbow Protection, but also financially. See, you pick up stuff, like plant or monster parts, but you can’t just sell it for money, and you’ll need money to build new shops for your residents, synthesize items for yourself (it’s simple crafting, thankfully, you just get the items for the listed formulas and it makes them, no guesswork required), and such. Instead, you get money from revenues from sales at the shops. That is, as shopkeepers sell items to the other people in your oasis, they collect a part of the profits and you can collect those revenues once a shop has sold enough. It’s an interesting mechanic which fits well with the ‘you’re the mayor’ element of this game.

Now, at first this game seems pretty hard, but it gets easier a little ways in. One of my few criticisms of this game would be that I don’t know about having the game seem hard at first only for it to get easier later, but if you stay focused on your quests it works; it’s worse if you try to explore around right at the start without doing the missions. So, at the beginning you start with 10 hit points and die in about two hits. Additionally, in this game you can only save in town, and when you die the game is kind of harsh — you have to go back to your last save. You also can’t warp back to town at the beginning, this is something you unlock later. I don’t have this ability yet where I am in the game, but I wish I had it even now. And last, while this is an RPG with a levelling system, you don’t get experience right when you kill enemies. Instead, you get experience for all enemies you killed in your expedition when you return to town. So, you need to return alive in order to make any progress. Returning to town and seeing that experience bar fill up all at once can be satisfying, though.

As I said, however, once you get going things get easier as you unlock more abilities. If you do the first mission, which is very easy, you get Rainbow Protection, which gives a huge boost to your health (I went from 11 HP to 41), varying based on how happy your oasis’s residents are. Rainbow Protection, which refers to protection from the rainbow that is over your oasis, also allows you to resurrect after dying, once only at first but more time as you progress. This is really important, given how easy it is to die. I spent some time getting frustrated wandering around and dying a lot before doing this quest, but just do it first. You do need to learn to dodge, though. But yes, keeping your little town’s people happy, by doing quests for them and providing them with the stuff they need to sell at their stores, is a key part of this game.

Your character starts with a sword but you eventually get several weapon types. You can also shoot out small tornadoes, which you use to activate switches for dungeon puzzles, blow away small piles of sand that pile up around and often have items in them, and such. And once you get party members you can also switch between them, and they each have their own weapon and ability for use in puzzles. You also eventually get the ability to warp between where you are and town; I don’t have this yet, but it’d be very useful. Overall this isn’t an especially complex game once you get used to it, as most puzzles seem simple and the gameplay is fairly straightforward and repetitive — fight enemies, collect stuff, build town, repeat — but it’s a lot of fun and is a definite challenge. Sure, the game gets a lot easier once you have the Rainbow Protection benefits and party members, but I think there is still definite challenge to be found. Even with boosted health and such, losing a lot of it quickly is easy if you don’t dodge well, and healing items are limited. Losing health is particularly easy in battles against multiple enemies, as dodging all of them is much harder with more than one foe at once.

I mentioned that there are also dungeons beneath the overworld. The first area of the game has three, two small one-room caves and one larger dungeon to explore. Some of this game is predesigned and some is randomly generated, but regardless dungeons are fun to explore and are full of enemies and puzzles, fitting its Zelda influence. The dungeons here are not 3D Zelda game dungeon great and puzzles, at least early on, are very simple and obvious, but even so the dungeons are fun to explore, at least the first time; returning to them over and over for materials may be a pain, but ah well. It’s a good game either way.

So, overall, so far I really like Ever Oasis. The game may get repetitive and I’m not sure of its difficulty balance, but otherwise this is a very good to great game with great graphics for its system, good art design, fun and reasonably challenging gameplay, good Zelda-inspired puzzles, and some decent, if simple, town management as well. All of the elements of this game work together well into a good whole. I’m still early in Ever Oasis, but I’m quite liking it and I hope that more people play the game, it’s well worth it. The 3DS is still a great system and while next year might not have much releasing for it (we’ll see), 2017 was a good year for the platform and this game is one of the reasons why. Anyone with any interest should at least try the Ever Oasis demo, which is free on the eshop. Or just get the game if it sounds good, so far I’d definitely recommend it.

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First Impressions: Steam Link hardware – Computer Games on your Television!

… Yes, it’s been far too long.  Between being busy, that more than 6-day power outage after the huge windstorm of October 2017 knocked out power to more than half of this state, some computer problems (I think Windows messed up my video card…) and not being sure what to post next, it kept getting pushed back.  This little article here is something, at least, though, and hopefully it’s interesting.

This first impressions article on the Steam Link is broken up into three main parts, first an introduction, second for an overview of the hardware, and last for my impressions of gaming on the device.


I got a Steam Link recently.  This is a piece of hardware made by Valve, the company who run the d0minant PC gaming store Steam, that you connect to your television via HDMI.  Then you connect it to the network your home computer is on, preferably by a wired connection for better reliability and speed, and it can duplicate one of your computer monitors onto your television, allowing you to play PC games on your TV, remotely.  The Steam Link does not run the games, it merely streams them from your PC, so how well it works depends on your setup — is it connecting via wired internet, or wireless?  How far is your computer from your TV, and is there only one router or switch in between the two or more?    Etc.

In my case, my computer and television are in different rooms, and my computers I play games on are all desktops and not laptop, so for some time I’ve been interested in finding a way to play computer games on the TV.  I have my computer and Steam Link both hooked up via wired internet to a router placed in between the two.  However, there didn’t seem to be an easy way to do that, until Valve solved that problem.  Fortunately, it works pretty well for me.  While not perfect, the Steam Link is a great device that I really like.

The Steam Link’s regular price is not too expensive, but the price was just enough that I did not buy one until recently.  However, over the past month or so Steam has had a series of sales selling off Steam Links for extremely low prices; they seem to want to clear their warehouses of these things.  There have been several bargain-basement offers, some even cheaper than the offer I bought, but the one I got cost $1 plus $7 shipping, with a catch — it was a bundle with a game, ICEY, which cost $7.69 itself; that is an okay price for that game, but not as low as it’s been. ICEY looks decent (it’s a sidescrolling action/platformer) so I decided to keep it anyway, though, so I have that too now. The total bundle was a bit over $15, which is quite reasonable.  No one is sure why they’re selling these for so cheap, if it’s because of a switch over to apps embedded into smart TVs or a new generation of the hardware that is not out yet, but within its limitations the Steam Link works and is definitely worth getting when it’s next on sale cheap.

Steam Link Hardware Overview

The way the Steam Link works is that you first have to turn on Steam on your PC and then go into Big Picture Mode.  After this, go to your television.  The Steam Link doesn’t have a power button on it, so you have to turn it on either by plugging in a controller to a USB port on the Steam Link, or hitting the ‘system menu’ button on a modern controller, such as the Xbox jewel on a 360 or Xbox One controller for example.   Because you are on a television, while the Steam Link does support keyboards and mice if you plug them into it, a gamepad is recommended.   Anyway, doing either of those things will wake up the Steam Link.  It will then look for your computer.  Once it connects, you’ll see the same Steam Big Picture Mode screen on your TV that is also on your computer monitor.  Big Picture Mode feels like a pointless waste on a computer, but on a television it’s a mostly well-designed system interface that works well.  You can play any of your Steam games through this interface, and sort by any categories you have or by which games have native Xinput controller support, which is nice.

Now, you can stream your desktop to your TV, but the hardware has limitations.  Either for bandwidth or Steam Link hardware limitation reasons, the Steam Link can only display a 1080p picture or below.  If you’re running your desktop at anything above 1920 x 1080, the Steam Link will scale it down to fit whatever output resolution you have chosen.  I have a 16:10 monitor and run my main desktop at 1920 x 1200, but it can display that on my TV, though I do need to remember to set games to 1080 to have them not cut off as much of the screen.  The Steam Link can output an interlaced image as well as progressive scan, too, allowing for 1080i support for older HDTVs like one I have that do not support 1080p.  The higher resolution you stream the more pixels it is streaming so the higher the likelihood you will have performance issues, but how well each resolution works will vary.  For me they all seem to work fairly well.   There are plenty of configuration options, which is great.  You can set what gamepad buttons will do in a game from a standard menu interface in the system menu, for example, which is pretty awesome.  If you have to use it the  Steam Big Picture Mode text-input interface is incredibly, barely unusably terrible with a regular gamepad though, so use a keyboard or Steam Controller for that, but otherwise the system menus are pretty good.

One other cool thing about this device is that while Steam does not advertise it as such, the Steam Link is not a Steam-only device.  Instead, once connected it streams whatever is on your computer monitor to the TV.  So, if you minimize Steam your desktop will appear.  At this point you will need to connect a keyboard and mouse to the Steam Link in order to navigate your desktop, but if you do that you can just use your computer on your TV, which is pretty cool.  Staying in Steam may be the most convenient thing, thanks to controllers and such, but it’s great that you are not locked into it; all PC games are not on Steam, after all!  And even when they are you may have it for another storefront for any number of reasons.  The competition of the many different ways you can buy PC games are one of the many great things about computer gaming, and hardware shouldn’t lock you to one device.

On that note, one other accessory that would go well with a Steam Link is the Steam Controller.  I don’t have one, but I am thinking about it now.  A regular Xinput controller, such as the wired, Xbox 360-compatible Hori EX2 Turbo gamepad I use (because it is the only officially licensed and dual-analog Xinput gamepad with six face buttons, mostly), is great, but the Steam Controller allows for easy keyboard/mouse mapping to it, and its touchpad things may be a better mouse replacement than analog sticks are?  I know impressions of the Steam Controller are quite mixed, though, and I remember hating the touch-only dpads of TurboTouch controllers for the NES and Genesis and such, so if I get one I’ll report on what I think.  The other negative is that it’s mostly locked to Steam; there may be ways to use it outside of Steam, but it’s intended only to run in Steam and that really is too bad.

Gaming on the Steam Link

But anyway, back to the Steam Link.  So far, I have used this to play gamepad-supporting Xinput computer games I have in Steam on my television.  Again, I am using it on a wired network because Valve warns that wireless causes larger amounts of lag which can make playing games difficult.  This makes sense, because while wireless internet usually works fine, it’s never as fast or reliable as wired internet is.  I would expect the same from an intranet like this.

I would say that for the most part the Steam Link works great.  Just as you’d hope, it displays my computer monitor on my TV, and games are entirely playable.  How playable games are on TV instead of computer monitor depends on the game in question and the screens you are running it on, though.  First, of course, many computer games are designed for you to be sitting close to the screen.  Even on a sharp television, sitting much farther away will make details hard to discern.  Playing more console-styled games is fine though of course, and I have many of them for PC as I like many kinds of games.  Second, lag is a key concern.  Everything you’re doing is going through wires over to your PC and then back again, after all, so there are multiple points where lag can be introduced that would not exist when playing just on a PC — either from the wires, from your router, from TV latency, or what have you.  In my experience, while it’s close, I do think that games probably do not run quite as smoothly on my TV as they do on the computer.  The lag is fortunately low, but it is there, and this can affect some kinds of games worse than others.  It works and the controls are responsive, though, which is great.  Being able to play computer games on my television, while the computer is still in another room, is great and I think I’ll use this thing a good amount; it’s kind of like having a new console, only it’s my computer! Sure, there is more lag and slowdown in games, and worse image quality too (because while my TV is HD and largeish, it’s pretty old), but still it’s pretty great.

I have tried a variety of games over the Steam Link, including 2d and 3d games, faster action titles and slower ones.  All are playable, and run close to how they do on my computer monitor.  The very framerate-consious might have a different experience from me, but whether I tried Deltazeal or Dead or Alive 5 games seemed to run about how it should.  There is a noticeable graphical downgrade versus playing directly on my PC, however, either because of the resolution change or simply distance, both from the computer to the TV and from how far you sit from the screen.  That’s a relatively minor sacrifice to be able to run my desktop on my television without a huge amount of hassle, however!

Beyond lag, the other issue I need to address again is controllers.  Since it is an open format there are many different kinds of controllers used by PC games.  The Steam Link will run any modern game with Xinput controller support with no problem, but anything else, whether it’s an older PC game with only Directinput support, games with only keyboard and mouse support, something outside of Steam, or what have you, require other controllers.  And considering that the Steam Link is underneath your TV, far from where I sit at least and I presume this is true for most people, and you are probably not seated in front of a desk, using a mouse or keyboard comfortably may not be realistic.  Plugging in a Directinput gamepad is easy enough, to solve that issue, though a USB extension cable may be necessary to get over to where you are; I sure would need one, PC game controllers do not have long cables.  Still, the keyboard and mouse issue is tougher.  I don’t have a wireless keyboard and mouse to use with my Steam Link yet so I’ve only been able to use it within Steam, but I will get something, perhaps a wireless keyboard with built-in laptop style touchpad; I do not like those things, but for basic Windows navigation it’d work.  These are issues which matter to me because I love computer games of all ages, not only ones from the past decade or so which mostly support xinput.  I still think that Microsoft should have just stuck with directinput instead of confusing PC gaming with two competing interfaces, but they did, so ah well.

But anyway, overall the Steam Link is pretty cool.  Lag, distance from the screen, and image quality degradation are real issues, but despite that the Steam Link is easily worth getting since it succeeds at its goal of allowing people to display their computer desktop on their television, and paired with Steam’s Big Picture Mode also has a good interface for using computer games in a console-sized menu system.  Big Picture Mode is great on a TV, but it is also fantastic that you can minimize it and use your regular desktop, for watching videos online, trying to read a website perhaps despite the inevitable text-size issues, playing a game outside of Steam, and such.  The Steam Link is a good idea that is executed fairly well, and while PC-focused titles centered around mouse and keyboard control will never be any good on Steam Link no matter what controller configuration you try to use up, there are there are many hundreds and even thousands of computer games that would run perfectly on a television.  Instead of buying the game once on PC and again on consoles, why not just buy it once, on PC, and play it on both screens?  With Steam Link, you can do that!   Overall, I recommend the Steam Link if it sounds like something you could use.  It’s pretty cool and I like it, and the repeated sales Valve is offering for these make it an easy recommendation the next time it goes on sale cheap.  Know of the issues, but don’t let that dissuade you from getting a Steam Link if it could be at all useful for how you play games.

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Wii WiiWare & Wii Virtual Console – Pre-Shutdown Interesting Titles and Suggestions List

… Yes, it’s finally an actual update!  I’ve been meaning to write something here for weeks now, but keep getting distracted by Starcraft Remaster and now also Overwatch… bah. (There are so many games to play right now, it’s a nice “problem” to have…)  Well, today I finally finished something.  This is the result of quite a bit of work going through the whole Wii digital storefront, so enjoy.


Nintendo announced that the Wii’s digital-download store will be shut down soon. Starting in March 2018 you will not be able to add points (money to buy games with) to your account, so game purchasing will be impossible beyond spending any points you have previously purchased. You will still be able to download games you’ve bought previously, though. Then in January 2019 the store will be completely shut down, and all redownload will be impossible after that. However, as digital Wii games are locked to the system instead of an account, that is only an issue if you have deleted something and want to download it again, a problem you can solve by having more or larger SD cards to put the games on.

So, despite the impending shutdown, I’ve decided to get a bunch of WiiWare games while we still can, because while I bought several dozen WiiWare games and a couple of Wii Virtual Console games over the years, there are a lot of potentially interesting games on the system that I still don’t have, and for as long as you can still buy them I think I should. After that maybe piracy is sadly okay, since if Nintendo doesn’t want to sell the games anymore people who want to play those games should be able to if they want, but while they are available, turn on your Wii, or Wii mode in a Wii U, and buy some WiiWare games!  I will be.

So, here is a list of WiiWare games that are of interest. I’m not also going to list many Virtual Console titles because while there are many games of interest there, those are all at least still playable on their original systems, which is where most of them are better.


Most importantly, this is not a list of everything on WiiWare. It is a list of all games that I thought looked interesting enough in some way to list, which is a lot of them but not everything. Sorry if I skipped over anything noteworthy.

This list will be in alphabetical order by publisher, because that is how Nintendo lists them in the store; there is no way to just view everything, only the by-publisher list lists all games once only. There is also a genre-based list, but some games are in multiple genres so I can’t use that one if I only want to see each title once, which I do.

I will also list the price for each game, in Wii points.  In the US, Wii points cost 1 cent each, so 500 = $5, 1000 = $10, and such.  The prices as stated never change, because WiiWare and Wii VC games never go on sale — Nintendo seems to have never put in a sale function in their store, or something.  It’s annoying but true.


Bold game titles are games that I own. They’re all worth a look, though some more so than others.

Italicized titles are Wii-exclusive games; other titles are also available elsewhere.  WiiWare exclusives will not be purchasable after the shop goes down, so they deserve primary attention here.

Underlining means two things.  In games that I own, it means that I definitely recommend getting this game.  In titles that I do not own, it means that I find the title potentially interesting based on their descriptions.  These are games I definitely might get before the Wii shop closes down.  If a game is also available, often for less, or in an enhanced remade form, on some other format I probably won’t recommend it even if it’s great; the focus here is first on games you can only, or best, play on the Wii.

Finally, first comes the WiiWare section of the list.  The Wii Virtual Console section is below it.

The List: WiiWare

Nintendo (because they list themselves first)

ArtStyle Cubello – 600 – Good puzzle game. This is fun stuff.
ArtStyle Light Trax – 600
  (a sequel of sorts to bit Generations: Dotstream on GBA) – Okay game but I don’t love it.
ArtStyle Orbient – 600
ArtStyle Rotohex – 600
ArtStyle Rotozoa – 600
Dr. Mario Online RX – 1000
– An okay version of Dr. Mario, though still-online ones for newer systems would be better.
Eco Shooter: Plant 530 – 1000 – A mediocre and very short light-gun shooter. I’m glad I got this as a points reward and didn’t pay money for it.
Excitebike World Rally- 1000
Fluidity – 1200

Grill-Off with Ultra Hand – This game was only available as a Club Nintendo reward, and cannot be legitimately purchased or added to your system anymore.  Fortunately (?) it’s a pretty simple and average game which I quickly lost interest in.
Mabioshi’s Arcade – 800
Rock ‘n Roll Climber – 800
Snowpack Park – 800
Wario Ware: D.I.Y. Showcase – 800. This game can connect with the DS game, Wario Ware: D.I.Y. That is the full title, while this just lets you play some minigames. It was mostly useful as a way to play user-made games you downloaded, but since the Wii and DS’s online multiplayer was shut down years ago, so it’s much less useful now. It does allow you to play the games from the DS game on a TV though so it could still have some use.
You, Me, and the Cubes – 1000

2D Boy

World of Goo – 1500


Potpurrrii – 800


Zombie Panic in Wonderland – 1000 (This version of the game is Wii-exclusive, but there is a 3DS eShop DX version with added content that is better overall, though the Wiimote aiming here is nice.)


Family Glide Hockey – 500
Family Go-Kart Racing – 500 (there is also a 3DS game, Family Kart 3D, but I think it might be different?)
Family Mini Golf – 500
Family Slot Car Racing – 500
Family Pirate Party – 500
Family Tennis – 500 (there are also Wii U and 3DS Family Tennis games. I don’t think they are identical to this release but they build on it, the Wii U one particularly.)
Family Table Tennis – 500
Family Card Games – 500


Anima: Ark of Sinners – 1000


Mr. Driller W – 800 – A decent Mr. Driller game.
Muscle March – 500

Big Blue Bubble

Burn the Rope – 1000

Big John

Mouse House – 600


Bit Boy!! – 600
Niki: Rock ‘n’ Ball – 500
Plattchen: Twist ‘n’ Paint – 1000

Broken Rules

And Yet it Moves – 1000 (not exclusive, but the Wii version has better controls than the ports)


Space Trek – 700


Mega Man 9 – 1000 plus about 1000 in DLC.  These games are multiplatform but if you want to have them for Nintendo, this is close to your last chance. It’s great. Hard, but great. This is harder than any of the NES games.
Mega Man 10 – 1000 plus about 1000 in DLC.  This one is a bit easier than 9 is, but it’s still tough, and really good. These are both must-plays, at least in my opinion!


Dracula: Undead Awakening – 1000


Inkub – 500
Dive: The Medes Island Secret – 1000


SPOGS Racing –  1000

Deep Fried

Shadowplay – 800

Digital Leisure

Overflow – 1500
Copter Crisis – 500
The Incredible Maze – 500


Jelly Car 2  – 500


Equilibrio – 500

Dream Box

Robox – 1000


TNT Racers – 1000

Empty Clip

Groovin Blocks – 800


Bang Attack! – 500


Brain Drain – 500


Chronos Twins DX – 1000 (an expanded version of a Europe-only DS game)
La-Mulana – 1000 (a popular game, but this is not the best version)


ColorZ – 700


Flight Control – 700

Fishing Cactus

Trenches Generals – 500


LostWinds – 1000 (both LostWinds games are not exclusive, but are best here, with better controls than on other platforms. They are fairly higly regarded.)
LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias – 1000


Gene Labs – 1500

Frozen Codebase

Jam City Rollergirls – 1000


Frobot – 1000

Gaijin Games

Lilt Line – 500


Furry Legends – 1000 (also on DSiWare but this is the better version. I played the demo and liked it.)


Block Breaker Deluxe – 800

Game Shastra

Tumblebugs 2 – 800


GhostSlayer – 600
Little Tournament Over Yonder – 800


Rage of the Gladiator – 1000


Diatomic – 800

High Voltage

High Voltage Hot Rod Show – 1000
Gyrostarr – 700
– This is a fun little rail shooter.  I like the speed.

Hudson Soft

Adventure Island: The Beginning – 800
Alien Crush Returns – 800 – While not as great as the original, it’s fun.
Bomberman Blast – 1000
Onslaught – 1000

Pop ‘Em Drop ‘Em Samegame – 500
Star Soldier R – 800 – This score-attack shmup was a lot better when its leaderboards were online, but I still like it.
Snowboard Riot – 1000
Water Warfare – 800


Paper Wars: Cannon Fodder – 500


Stonekeep: Bones of the Ancestors – 500 – This game got terrible reviews but I enjoy it, actually.


Mart Racer – 500


Castlevania ReBirth – 1000 – Very good but short.
Contra ReBirth – 1000
Critter Round-Up – 1000
Driift Mania – 800I found this overhead racer disappointing.
Frogger Hyper Arcade – 700
Frogger Returns – 500
Gradius ReBirth – 1000 – It’s not quite on par with the classic Gradius games, but this is still really good!
Sandy Beach – 500
Tomena Sanner – 500


Lead the Meerkats – 1000


Ghost Mania -500
Three Musketeers: One for All! – 900


Gravitronix – 500


3D Pixel Racing – 500
Kyotokei – 500 (there is also an iOS port of the game, but it is single player only while this one has two players, and better controls of course.) This is an okay indie shmup with a color-switching mechanic. It’s kind of fun.


Harvest Moon: My Little Shop – 1200
Moki Moki – 800


Cocoto Platform Jumper – 700
Heracles Chariot Racing – 800


Cave Story – 1200 (This is a true classic, but better versions are on other platforms.)

NIS America

Viral Survival – 500


escapeVektor Chapter 1 – 500 (it’s good, but the complete game was later released on 3DS eshop only)
Pop – 700


Flowerworks – 1000


Urbanix – 500
Monochrome Racing – 500
Robin Hood: The Return of Richard – 500
Jewel Keepers: Easter Island – 500
Arcade Essentials – 500


Pallurikio – 1000


A Monsteca Corral: Monsters vs. Robots – 500

Over the Top Games

NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits – 1000.  This game was later ported to the PC and iOS, but the controls are designed for the Wii and it would not play nearly as well anywhere else. It’s a pretty good puzzle/platformer well worth playing.


Bejeweled 2 – 1000

Press Play

Max & the Magic Marker – 1000


Gnomz – 1000
2 Fast 4 Gnomz – 500


Newton vs. The Horde – 500 (technically not exclusive, but it is only also on Xbox Live Indie Games, a service which was shut down a few days ago, so this is the only way to buy this apparently-awful game now.)

Real Arcade

Boingz – 1000


MotoHeroz – 1500 (this is the version of this game to get, it’s only also on iOS) – From the Trials people!  Looks great.


Fenimore Fillmore: “The Westerner” – 1000

Riverman Media

MadStone – 800

Rock You

Bloons – 500


Swords & Soldiers – 1000 (a good game, but you can get it elsewhere.)


Snail Mail – 600 (This is a port of an iOS remake of a browser-based Shockwave PC racing-ish game.  It’s not exactly the same as either previous version, though; multiplayer has been added, and perhaps more.)


Save the Furries – 1000


Let’s Catch – 1000 (can connect to Let’s Tap for DS for an added bonus)
Sonic 4: Episode 1 – 1500


Drop Zone: Under Fire – 500 (also on 3DS, but this is the better version) – This obscure falling-shooter is good fun, I thought. Look it up.

Semnat Studios

Eduardo the Samurai Toaster – 800 – This is an okay-to-good indie run & gun. It’s kind of Contra-like, and has good art. (… Not that I can be entirely objective about this one, as I used to know one of the developers online. But yeah, buy it. )


Magic Destiny – 500
Vampire Crystals – 1000 (there was a later iOS version of this surprisingly good game, but I think it’s altered.) – This is a great twinstick shooter, get it! It was one of the last WiiWare releases so it didn’t get much attention. Yes, despite its title this game IS actually really good.


Art of Balance – 800 – Also available on 3DS, Wii U, and PS4, but this original version is great too. I got it for Wii U.
FAST Racing League – 1000 – A popular classic futuristic racer. The Wii U / Switch sequel is better, but this game is also great.
Fun! Fun! Minigolf – 900 – There is a 3DS eShop followup to this available, but this is good too.
Jett Rocket – 1000
– Yes, you can do a good 3d platformer in WiiWare’s size limitation! See, this game.


Crystal Defenders R1 – 800 (technically “exclusive”, but it’s just the first world of the iOS/PS3/360/etc. Crystal Defenders game sold on its own for way too much.)
Crystal Defenders R2 – 800 (see above, except this is with worlds 2 and 3 of the original game.)
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King – 1500 (plus lots in semi-required DLC) – I’d play this if not for all that DLC…
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord – 1500 (plus lots in semi-required DLC) – Expensive DLC aside this is a pretty good take on a tower defense game.
Final Fantasy IV: The After Years – 800 for episode 1, plus 2900 in DLC costs for the remaining episodes.  This is not the best or cheapest way to play this game.
The Tales of Bearsworth Manor: Puzzling Pages – 1000, plus 2100 in DLC
The Tales of Bearsworth Manor: Chaotic Conflicts – 1000, plus 2000 in DLC

Stickmen Studios

Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time – 1000
Dragon Master Spell Caster – 500
Kung Fu Funk: Everybody is Kung Fu Fighting! – 500

Studio Walljump

Liight – 800

Studio Zan

Overturn – 800


Astro Bugz Revenge – 700 (expanded version of an iOS game)


Blaster Master Overdrive – 1000

Super Icon

Soccer Bashi – 500
Stunt Cars – 800
Arcade Sports – 800
Family Games: Pen & Paper Edition! – 500


Arkanoid Plus! – 600, plus 200 in DLC (different from Arkanoid Live for X360)
Bubble Bobble Plus! – 600, plus 400 in DLC (apparently the same as Bubble Bobble Neo for X360)
Bust-A-Move Plus! – 600, plus 400 in DLC (similar to BAM Live for X360)
Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure! – 800
Space Invaders Get Even – 500, plus 1500 in DLC – A unique spin on Space Invaders.


3-2-1 Rattle Battle – 500
Eat! Fat! Fight! – 1000


Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People – Episodes 1-5 – 1000 each
Tales of Monkey Island – Episodes 1-5 – 1000 each

Tetris Online (actually by Hudson Soft)

Tetris Party – 1200 (also has an expanded Wii disc / Nintendo DS followup, Tetris Party Deluxe)


Heavy Fire: Black Arms – 500
Heavy Fire: Special Ops – 500

The Learning Company

Carmen Sandiego Adventures in Math – Episodes 1-5 – 600 each

tons of bits

chick chick BOOM – 800


Heron: Steam Machine – 500

Two Tribes

Rubik’s Puzzle Galaxy: RUSH – 600 (later ported to PC and Wii U.  The other versions of RUSH don’t have the Rubik’s name attached, but are the same game and cost less.)
Toki Tori – 1000 (a great game, but get it for less on another system!)


Protothea – 1000 (a PC port dual-stick-style shooter with Wiimote aiming instead of mouse, or two sticks.)
Voodoo Dice – 1000


Balloon Pop Festival  – 800 (I presume that this game is original, though there are many other Balloon Pop games out there for Wii, DS, 3DS, and especially iOS.)

Unconditional Studios

Bittos+ – 800 (also available for PC as Bittos-e, sold on the games’ website only)


Retro City Rampage – 1000 (another good game also available on other platforms for this much or less, and with expanded content in the later DX release, which is not on Wii.)

Virtual Toys

HoopWorld – 1000
Spaceball: Revolution – 800
Yummy Yummy Cooking Jam – 1000


Robocalypse: Beaver Defense – 600


LIT – 800 (also on iOS, Android, and PC, but all other releases are based on the much simplified phone version, not the better original Wii game here.)


Around the World – 500


Defend Your Castle – 500


Magnetis – 500


Gods vs. Humans – 1200
Racers’ Island: Crazy Arenas – 500
Racers’ Island: Crazy Racers – 1000


Selected Virtual Console Titles


First, you can find a list of all Wii Virtual Console titles here:

Again, all Virtual Console games are re-releases of older titles, so none are Wii exclusive.  Several hundred are titles only digitally available on Nintendo platforms on the Wii, however, including all of the Genesis, Master System, and Turbografx games as well as some Nintendo titles, so there is reason to look at these.  Additionally, Wii emulation is generally quite good particularly for people wanting digital titles that they can display at 240p resolution, since the Wii supports that.  However, as I have preferred to buy actual classic games to VC re-releases, I’ve never paid much attention to Virtual Console.  I’d like to try to mention some games for the service, however, particularly games you can only digitally buy here.

First, three games deserving of special mention.

Space Harrier (Arcade) – The arcade version of Space Harrier for the Wii has motion controls added, to emulate the arcade’s analog stick by tilting the Wii Nunchuck controller.  That’s a pretty awesome feature to include here, and it makes this an exclusive version of the game.  As far as I know this is the only Wii VC game with motion added, and it’s not a Nintendo title, it’s Sega!  Heh.  Nintendo always has been kind of lazy with their emulation…

Monster World IV (Genesis) – This game is also available digitally on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, but it is very noteworthy because Sega commissioned a new translation of this previously Japan-only title for its 2010 digital re-release.  Definitely get this great game for one of those platforms, and perhaps the Wii because it looks great on Wii.

Ironclad (Neo-Geo) – This quality shmup actually had its only ever release on WiiWare, as the original Neo-Geo cartridge version of Ironclad was cancelled.  A Neo-Geo CD version of the game was released in the late ’90s, but this is the cancelled cartridge version, not the CD one.  It has not yet been released anywhere else, and the CD version has not seen a digital re-release anywhere.

And now, selected titles.

First, there are some Wii VC games which, while originally released in other regions on physical media, are still exclusively released in North America as Wii Virtual Console titles.  This means that they are import games that only got released in the US on Wii VC and have not been re-released anywhere else.  They are all good games, and some are great.  Here’s a list: Gley Lancer (Genesis), Pulseman (Genesis), Street Fighter II’: Champion Edition (TurboGrafx), DoReMi Fantasy (SNES), Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Master System) (the awful Game Gear version of this was released on cart and is available in multiple Sega collections here, but not this better SMS release!), and Sonic Chaos (Master System) (as with Sonic 2, the GG version is easily available here, but the SMS version is WiiVC-only.).  Puyo Puyo 2 (Genesis) also technically goes here, though there is a US 3DS eShop release of the very similar arcade version of the game.

Additionally some games are still US-exclusive digitally on the Wii, but do have digital re-releases on other formats in Japan: Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (TurboGrafx) (This game is also available digitally and physically on PSP (/Vita) in the Castlevania Dracula X Chronicles package, but is only on a Nintendo system here and is fantastic.), Monster World IV (Genesis, as mentioned above), Super Fantasy Zone (Genesis), Cho Aniki (TurboGrafx) (the game has a Japanese Wii U VC release, but not elsewhere), Gradius II (TurboGrafx) (the original arcade version has some US releases, such as on the PSP Gradius collection, and in Japan it was released in the PS3’s PC Engine Classics line, but in the US the Wii has the only ever release of this version.), Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa (NES) (also on 3DS and Wii U Virtual Console, both in Japan only; here, Wii-exclusive.).

Of the Virtual Console games of  previously US-released games, I should mention some highlights that are currently not available digitally anywhere other than on the Wii Virtual Console.  Yes, all games below have their only US digital release on Wii VC.  Note this only includes games that are currently available, not the sadly delisted titles that otherwise would be here.

GameXplain made a video listing all titles that are only digitally available on Nintendo platforms on the Wii here: and it is very useful.  It doesn’t mention games that have digital re-releases elsewhere, though, which is true for many Genesis games and some TurboGrafx titles as well. For the NES, SNES, and N64, however, that video almost entirely covers it.

NES: Of the games only for sale digitally on Wii, most aren’t amazing but Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa (mentioned above), Adventures of Lolo 2, Burger Time, Final Fantasy, Faxanadu, Zanac, and Star Soldier are worth a mention for sure.  Perhaps also Milon’s Secret Castle and A Boy and his Blob.

SNES: A lot of great SNES games are still only on Wii VC, see the video for the list.  I definitely highly recommend Super Turrican, it’s amazing!  Gradius III, Chrono Trigger, and Super Bonk are great as well.  There are more.  Beyond that, I should mention that there is at least one game that does have Wii U / 3DS VC releases in Japan, but in the US is still Wii-exclusive: Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen.

N64: Only four N64 games are being delisted for now, but all four — Bomberman Hero, Cruis’n USA, Super Smash Bros., and Pokemon Puzzle League — are good games, the latter two particularly.

As for those non-Nintendo platforms, though, things are more complex.

TurboGrafx: Excepting the handful of titles also available on the PS3/PSP (listed here: ), all of the other TurboGrafx games on the Wii have their only US releases on Wii Virtual Console.  Many more PCE games also have Japanese PS3/PSP releases, but the US saw only a handful of titles there.  I should note that Dragon’s Curse is also Wii VC-exclusive, but the game has a multiplatform remake, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, that released in 2017 for many platforms.  That is based on the arcade and SMS versions and not this one, but they are essentially the same.   The TG16 and Turbo CD are fantastic systems, and buy lots of the games here!  Some of note that aren’t also on PS3/PSP include Monster Lair, Shockman, Air Zonk, Psychosis, Dead Moon, Legend of Hero Tonma, Battle Lode Runner, The Dynastic Hero, Bomberman ’93, Cratermaze, and Military Madness.  There are also some noteworthy games that are on Wii VC in the US, and still are US-exclusive digitally here, but do have Japan-only releases on the PSP and PS3 in the “PC Engine Classics” line: Neutopia II, Devil’s Crush, Bonk’s Revenge (PC Genjin 2), Bonk 3: Bonk’s Big Adventure (PC Genjin 3), Gate of Thunder, Lords of Thunder, Galaga ’90 (Galaga ’88), Splatterhouse, and Ys I & II (though this game also has multiple remakes available on various systems).

Sega Genesis: Lots of Sega’s Genesis games have PC releases on Steam, but some Genesis games available on the Wii are still Wii VC-exclusive, including the expensive classic MUSHA, Rolling Thunder 2, Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition, Super Street Fighter II, Boogerman, and Mega Turrican.  The Genesis version of Earthworm Jim is also Wii VC-only, though other versions are available elsewhere.  Also see the import exclusives I mentioned earlier.

Sega Master System: SMS games haven’t been re-released like Genesis games, so the 15 on Wii VC will mostly vanish digitally with the Wii’s shop.  Of them, I’d particularly note Sonic the Hedgehog, Secret Command (this is actually Rambo: First Blood Part II), Phantasy Star, and Fantasy Zone II.  Some may wish to look up the Wonder Boy and Alex Kidd games as well.

Neo-Geo: This system is amazing, but few games here aren’t available elsewhere, and with how Neo-Geo games continue to be re-released on modern systems I expect that few will stay Wii VC-only for digital purchase.  Many of the games listed in the GameXplain video do have releases on other modern platforms, including GOG, Steam, and/or Humble Store PC releases, Switch, and such, but a few do not yet (in the US).  These include Ninja Masters, Ninja Commando, Ninja Combat, Ironclad (as mentioned above), Ironclad (as mentioned previously), Top Hunter, and Magical Drop III.  Sengoku 3 and probably more are still console-only on Wii, as well.  Magical Drop III is included on disc on the Wii on the Data East Arcade Classics compilation, however.   SNK’s four disc-based Wii collections include many more games, including all of the Metal Slug, Samurai Shodown, and KOF ’94-’98 games, as well as the 16 titles in the SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 disc: , which does include Top Hunter as well as some games not released digitally on the Wii.

Arcade: Space Harrier is the standout here, and most of these games are available elsewhere, but some of these are worth a look regardless, such as arcade Golden Axe.


Overall, despite all the space I have given the Virtual Console here, and that many of these games are better than a lot of WiiWare titles, because they are playable elsewhere, on their original platform,s in emulation, on newer consoles, or what have you, I would strongly recommend focusing much more on WiiWare than Virtual Console.  Those are the games that are truly going away after the Wii’s online store is shut down, not the Virtual Console games… Space Harrier and Ironclad kind of excluded.  WiiWare may have a lot of mediocre titles released for it, including some above and more I did not list, but there are also some pretty good games here that should not be forgotten, so go play them!

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A Short Article On Nintendo Closing Miiverse

So I was working on a new update to the PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries article, when… Starcraft Remastered released, and I’ve barely played anything else since since the original Starcraft is my favorite game ever and it is still incredibly addictive. I will write something about that game once I find the words, but for now I have something else to say a little about, a recent very bad decision of Nintendo’s.

Miiverse is a social network slash forum system that Nintendo set up. It supports the Wii U and 3DS, and can run on those platforms or over the web. In Miiverse there are some general areas, but the main focus is game-specific; you can search by game, bookmark individual game Miiverse sections, and more. Every single game on the 3DS and Wii U has a Miiverse section, and those sections have three parts: one which posts Miiverse status updates tagged with that games’ name, one where people post drawings related to that game, and one which is a forum section for posting threads with comments about the game. It’s a pretty well-designed system. I care quite a bit about categorization, so this setup, with a separate page for every single game on the service, is something I really like. Having separate categories for every game is a lot better than having only one giant mess of a forum where everything goes in together, or worse, having nothing at all!

Indeed, Nintendo calls Miiverse a social network, but while it has an element of that to it, I have used it differently: as a game-information resource. Built-in game-specific forums where you can discuss games and look up information for help about those games, in a forum specific to that game no matter how obscure it is, in a service built in to the system’s OS? That’s a fantastic idea, and while I may not have posted much at all on Miiverse, I absolutely have used it for game information. For many of the more obscure indie games on the 3DS and Wii U Miiverse is one of the only places online with much of any information about some titles. Miiverse is great and should continue on. Miiverse is kind of like the game-specific forums Steam and GOG have, except for a console, and it’s just as useful. Sure, console games have fewer technical issues to discuss on a forum than PC games will, but as Miiverse game communities show there is still a lot of value in this kind of service and it not replaceable; again, where else on the internet would I find actual helpful gameplay info about Alien Cleanup Elite for the Wii U? Nowhere, I think, if not for Miiverse.

Now, I’m sure it has other issues, but for perhaps my largest complaint, I wish that it was easier to get into a games’ Miiverse page — for instance, if you launch Miiverse while a game is running you should be able to go straight into that games’ page, instead of having to manually type in and search for the games’ name first, I do not understand why this was not simplified — but you can add communities to a quick-access list once you have been to them once, so at least in the future it gets a bit simpler. The solution to this is to improve Miiverse for the Switch, of course. Build on its successes, and improve on the shortcomings.

However, either in a misguided effort to abandon everything about the Wii U just because it failed to sell or in order to cut costs, Nintendo decided to not integrate Miiverse into their new hit console the Nintendo Switch. This led to rumors that it would be shutting down, and recently Nintendo confirmed this with an announcement that Miiverse will shut down far sooner than is reasonable or decent — Nintendo is completely shutting down Miiverse on November 7th: ttps://…AAADV44YslslXw . Once it closes, Miiverse will be completely gone. Games that have Miiverse integration will be broken after that point, and those elements of the games won’t work. The main home screen on the Wii U and the Splatoon plaza now won’t have any other players’ messages shown on them, Mario Maker levels will have no comments, Affordable Space Adventures’ ending will be kind of broken, and more. It sounds like Mario & Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars (3DS/Wii U) will be the worst-affected title, as even level download online won’t work in the game after Miiverse is gone, so I and anyone else interested in the game really should get it before then! I really liked the final DS M&DK game, which I think that one is similar to, so I will get it soon for sure. You get both versions with one purchase, which is nice.

Seriously, completely shutting down Miiverse this year is such an obnoxiously awful thing to do! Sure the Wii U is fading out, but people are still playing it. Splatoon and Mario Maker particularly still have healthy active online communities. Additionally, the 3DS still has good upcoming releases going into next year, and Miiverse is very much a thing there. And breaking major elements of a lot of your Wii U and 3DS games for no good reason — because seriously, Nintendo has the money to keep Miiverse up, it can’t be that expensive! — is really not good for consumers. The small amount of money Nintendo will save on server and moderation costs is in no way worth the loss Nintendo platform owners will suffer because of this mistake.

So, I think that while it was not perfect, Miiverse is a great idea and a pretty good service. I have not posted much at all on Miiverse, but it is a valuable resource for game information either way. It’s really unfortunate and, in my opinion, a mistake that Nintendo is abandoning the idea of running their own network and is now saying “just use Facebook and Twitter and stuff”, because those aren’t the same at all! Miiverse’s Game-specific pages are a completely different and far more useful thing than a generic social network full of everything. I want a place to look for information about this specific game on, not some giant social network to attempt to search through, and probably fail to find the relevant information on. Miiverse’s level of categorization is really nice.

So, instead of being somewhat cruelly obnoxious as Nintendo is being, they should have continued Miiverse on and made it a part of the Switch as well. It’s unfortunate that Nintendo is making the big mistake of shutting it down, because consoles need game-information forums like this. They are fantastic sources of information on PC game-distribution services like Steam and GOG, and consoles should have something similar as well… and the Wii U and 3DS do right now, if only Nintendo had realized how good an idea it was to keep them. Too bad.

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First Impressions – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U) – An Open-World Critic’s Take

I have always been critical of open-world games, but one of my favorite franchises has gone in that direction now, so I’ve tried this game despite my misgivings. Perhaps I should have held this back until or unless I finish the game, for a review, as a lot of this is probably stuff I would like to say there, but I want to write this now, so I’m posting it. I’m sure there would be more to say for a review anyway, or I could just reference this and add to it.


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or BotW, is the latest Zelda game. It released only a few months ago, and because I got a Wii U earlier this year I am able to play it. After some indecision because of the games’ genre I bought the game a few weeks ago. I am still early in it, but I have played enough to write up my initial thoughts on the game so I have done so.

To describe where I am in the game, after getting the game I explored this plateau area that you start on and, a little while later, finished that section of the game and got off of there into the main overworld. Then I went south towards the tower south of the start point, then stopped playing partway there after dying a bunch. I got back to the game over a week later, and have been more consistently playing it since. I got to that tower in the south area, found a stables and a horse, found and did a few shrines (I will describe these later, for anyone who has not played the game), then started heading towards the next story point, to find Impa. I got up the tower in that area and did a few shrines there along the way and then stopped. Later I got to Impa’s town, and have done a few more shrines as I go east from there. So yeah, I’m early but I do think I get the idea of the game.

So, what do I think? Well, there are some things about this game I like, but also others I dislike. My main issue with the game is its genre: I have never liked open-world games. I love the Zelda franchise, it is one of my favorites for its fantastic gameplay, but I strongly prefer a more directed experience over a more open-ended one. I definitely do not think that just by making a games’ world bigger, you make it better. And that is a big problem because BotW is an open-world game first, and a Zelda game… sometimes. There is fun to be had here, but there is also a lot of tedium.


First though, I would like to discuss the controls. Zelda games always have great controls and for the most part that is still true here, but I do have a few issues with it that can be annoying. With the face buttons you can move with the left stick, quick-switch weapons, shields, or special items with the d-pad, and attack and jump with the face buttons. Jumping is now entirely manual, the opposite of the auto-jumping of all 3d Zelda games since Ocarina of Time. I really like that they added a jump button, but getting used to the fact that you won’t auto-jump at platform edges anymore takes some getting used to and makes the game harder than its predecessors. On the shoulder buttons you block, shoot arrows, and use your special abilities. Combat is simplified versus the last few 3d Zelda games, as I will explain later; this is perhaps an issue. The game also has a weapon durability system, and it is another huge issue with this game; you will often need multiple weapons per fight! Additionally, for me personally, I’ve always hated dual shoulder buttons on controllers, and keep hitting the wrong ones when trying to do the thing for the other button… bah. The game also has an endurance system that I will get to soon. There are also a lot of on-screen indicators, all quite useful.

Much worse, though, while the game was originally designed around the Wii U Gamepad, with a map and inventory on the Gamepad just like the Wii U versions of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD. However, in order to foolishly make the Wii U and Nintendo Switch versions of the game as identical as possible those features were completely removed. This is kind of a tragedy and leaves the game feeling kind of incomplete for a Wii U title. If they had to remove some more advanced gamepad functions that is possibly understandable, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to remove the basic map and inventory features that should be on the gamepad. Even just putting the map on the bottom screen would have been fantastic and there is NO excuse not to do it! “We must make the two versions identical” makes no sense when they are not the same console, and this really does hurt the game.

More positively, since the Switch does at least have a tilt sensor in its controllers at least the tilt-based motion control elements remain, though they work the same as they do in Wind Waker HD, which means that you can only use motion aiming some of the time. I wish that there was an option to look around with the tilt controls all of the time (as in Splatoon), I’d use it! For looking up and down particularly, motion works a lot better than an analog stick. Instead, much like the Wii U version of Wind Waker, you need to use the first-person view to use motion, or the items (bombs, icemaking item, magnet, and such). Why limit motion to only certain items and not just let people use it? It doesn’t make much sense, and you’d think that given that this is the third Wii U main Zelda game like this (I presume, if TP HD is the same) they’d have improved on the aiming. Ah well.


Except for swimming in Wind Waker I don’t believe a Zelda game has had an endurance system before, but this has it and it is central to the game. You can swim and can climb almost any surface, but all of that burns stamina, and your stamina meter will run out quickly early in the game. The problem is, if you run out of stamina while swimming you die. If you run out of stamina while climbing you fall, and will die if you fall too far. There is also a similar cold system, as you will slowly freeze and then die if you go into a cold area without equipment that blocks the cold or food items which give you temporary cold immunity. No Zelda game has done any this before — in the past, if you fall into deep water or a pit for example you’d just respawn near the edge and maybe take a little bit of damage. Here, though, you die. Fortunately the game does let you save when you want and also autosaves regularly, but these don’t pick up right from where you left off, but go back to the last invisible checkpoint, and you will lose the progress you’ve made since then. Dying is not punished much here, but there is just enough of a punishment for it to sometimes be more frustrating than nicely tense.

Indeed, whether it is from running out of stamina or being killed by the also-challenging enemies BotW is a tough game. It does supposedly get easier much later on as you power up, but until you get to that point it’s a hard game and I have died often. In this way the game is very different from previous 3d Zelda games, and gets back to more of the challenge level of a classic 2d Zelda. The challenge comes from several places. One is the stamina system mentioned above. Second, though, is the next subject, the open-world nature of this game. Since Morrowind the Elder Scrolls series has handled damage by scaling the enemy difficulty, so that enemies everywhere differ in challenge relative to your level. This game doesn’t seem to do that, though, and you can go just about anywhere right from the start, so it is very, very easy to get into hard fights from early on. Enemies do a lot of damage, and I’m finding a lot of enemies who kill me in one hit. As much as I dislike scaled enemies, and I do, this is pretty frustrating for different reasons. It is no fun to die constantly because enemies, even those along the main path, can kill me in one hit.

Breath of the Wild makes some major changes to traditional Zelda progression, in that you have only four key items this time, and you get all of them at the beginning. Even so, this game does have progression. There isn’t a levelling system, but as you beat Shrines you get orbs, and for four orbs you can upgrade your stamina meter or get another heart added to your health. You can also buy clothing from some shops which give you bonuses. Food items, weapons, bows, and shields will come and go thanks to the weapon durability system, but these bonuses are more permanent. With how hard the enemies hit, and with how fast your stamina meter depletes, finding shrines to upgrade both of those is important.


Now, on to the gameplay and its core focus, open-world exploration. Breath of the Wild is a huge game with a large world to explore, and while there are other things to do, the focus is on wandering around that world. I’ve never liked this genre though as I said above, and I don’t love this game either; they’re too open-ended to hold my interest. Open-world games feel unfocused and usually lose me very quickly. First, I don’t like having to make choices if I don’t have to, and these games are all about choice. And second, the concept often seems to be “more space” instead of “better gameplay”; just letting you climb all the hills doesn’t make the whole game better, it just means you can do the same three things in more places… except because the designers had to spend so much time making the huge world, it is very likely that you won’t have encounters along the way that are nearly as carefully designed as you would in a more linear title. In this game for instance the amount of terrain is vast, but the enemy variety is quite limited. So, you will fight the same enemies, in slightly altered ways, over and over as you explore. And because you can go almost anywhere right from the start since traditional Zelda progression has mostly been abandoned here, the difficulty progression is uneven since the world is not all scaled to your ability and you can, and will, wander into hard areas all the time. I would rather see a more traditional sequence of events, as you start from easy areas and move up to harder ones as you go. This also allows for much more interesting puzzle elements in the world than you will find in any open-world game; compare Skyward Sword’s overworld to this one to see that contrast in full. SS’s overworld may be a bit too puzzle-dense, but this was not the solution. While some elements of the controls are similar, the core gameplay of BotW is totally different from any Zelda before. I knew it would be of course, and I am having some fun wandering around, finding shrines, and fighting the badguys, but it’s hard to not compare this to other Zelda games and find it wanting.

While this game is mostly a traditonal open-world game with a slight Zelda flair, Breath of the Wild does do a few new things, such as in its map system. You can bring up the map with a button. Much like how Ubisoft apparently does things, though I’ve never played any of Ubisoft’s open-world games, the map does not fill in as you explore. Instead, the map is broken up into districts. Each district has a large, easy-to-find tower somewhere in it, and once you climb that tower up to the top that whole district’s map will be revealed. On the map, shrines (these are puzzle-rooms scattered around the world), towers, and stables are automatically marked, but that’s it. In an Ubisoft game the map would be loaded with symbols for all kinds of things, but here you can mark the rest of that stuff yourself, if you wish. I like maps a lot, so this is great. There are limits though: there are only maybe twelve icons you can use, you can only put 100 icons total on a large world map that can take far more than that, you can only place icons in one color, yellow, and you cannot write text on the map. These limitations are unfortunate, but even so this is a pretty good map system, one of the best in the Zelda franchise. It is also probably a better solution than those done previously in the open-world action/adventure game genre. Now, BotW’s world is huge, but empty; it takes forever to get from point to point! Fortunately the game does have a pretty good quick-travel system, as from the map you can instantly travel to any tower or shrine that you have reached. Even so, getting from place to place takes a long time. There is a sense of adventure here, but I prefer the world size of a standard Zelda game over this.

One more huge change from past 3d Zelda games is that you get a lot less help this time. Nintendo has long wanted to help players out, to make sure that they know how to play the game and have a good chance of getting through it, but this game leaves more things up to the player, for good or ill. So, despite the large open world, there isn’t a helper character traveling around with you in BotW, telling you what to do and where to go. Some people love this about the game, but I’m fine with those characters myself and think that they are usually helpful; you need something to help you navigate a game! This game has some things to help you do that, but not a dedicated helper character. But because of that design, people have compared BotW to the original Zelda for the NES. There is some truth to that. However, while I like the original Zelda game, between its high difficulty and too-open design, it is far from my favorite Zelda game. It isn’t even my favorite Zelda-ish game on the NES, in fact; StarTropics is, because I prefer its linear style and absence of annoying randomly hidden stuff you need to find like the NES Zelda games do.

But while it may hearken back to NES games, fortunately BotW does have far more there to help you figure out what to do than the original Zelda does. There is an indicator which helps you find nearby shrines, which is incredibly helpful as while some shrines are easy to find others are hidden away; there are quest markers on the map telling you where to go for quests; you can place indicators when in the first-person view that add a marker on your map at the point that you mark, which is pretty great; those towers (that you go up to reveal the map) are large and easy to see from a long distance; and more. I know I’m still relatively early in this long game, but I haven’t gotten lost yet. I will say though, this game does demand more from the player than a Zelda game has in quite a while, and this surely has driven some people away early on; this is exactly why helper characters were invented in the first place. On the Plateau for example, there are pretty much no hints at all about how to survive in the cold area! In order to survive there you need to figure out how to cook those cold-resistant herbs into something which gives you longer-term cold resistance pretty much, just eating them one at a time won’t last long. And then if you happen to go to the right place (as I fortunately did) you get that cold-resistant outfit at the top of a mountain there, making that whole effort kind of pointless… hmm, it was satisfying once I figured it out, but from a design standpoint I’m not sure what I think of that. There should be more help there than they give you for things like that.

Now, some people say that in open-world games you should not try to follow the games’ main quest path, but instead should wander around, explore, and see what you can find. That may be how these games are designed, but that is close to the opposite of how I usually do anything. There are a lot of things to see on the map, though I imagine most are just the usual slight rehashes of the same stuff, and it is probably true that you’ll need to go off the main paths to find them. And even if a lot of those areas and encounters are very similar I won’t say that there’s nothing to that kind of exploration, because seeing interesting places in games can be pretty cool. I have quite liked finding some nice vistas and such in Guild Wars, for example.

However, I just would not want to randomly wander in order to find those places, that is not how I do things. I of course don’t just randomly wander! It’s pointless, or worse, boring — think of grinding in RPGs, which is similar in that your only objective is “level up” and not “get to a specific place”. Either in games or in real life, if I’m going somewhere (in a game, for a walk, what have you) I want to know where I’m going before I start out. If you had to explore to reveal the map that would be a pretty big thing pushing me to explore (and yes I wish this game did that, video above or no), but since it gives you each area’s map all at once all, what I have done so far after getting off the plateau are going towards either a tower or the next quest marker, while following shrine-sensor pings along the way when it goes off since those can be fun. That works. Maybe at some point I’ll try going to other map points though. As for on the plateau, there I just had to explore it, but it’s small enough that that’s quite reasonable.

But overall, the sheer size of the world already has gotten me kind of bored sometimes because of how spread out everything is. And saying that yet again is not nearly as repetitive as running across the world in an open-world game is!


I discussed the basics of the combat system above, under Controls, but some elements of it require more discussion. These are side-effects of Breath of the Wild’s open-world nature; on the one hand this is an open-world game, but on the other hand Nintendo did want at least SOME of that classic Zelda gameplay style to be somewhere in this game. But to make a world large you need to make compromises elsewhere, and that is as true here as anywhere.

For whatever reason, but possibly because making a large world is difficult, BotW has a relatively limited number of enemy types; you see the same few enemies a lot. I referenced this earlier, with how a more linear game — like all past 3d Zelda games — has a constantly changing set of enemies and experiences to see as you progress through the game. This game has constantly changing scenery to explore through and a lot of things to find, and has a lot of different weapon types to pick up and attack enemies with, but not only will you be fighting the same enemies often, the way you do it is in some ways more limited than it was previously. Combat has been simplified in comparison to the last three 3d Zelda games, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. In some ways it is perhaps even simpler than the Nintendo 64 games were, in fact. Basically, you seem to be able to swing around weapons at whoever is in front of you, use your bow or bombs, lock on to targets and circle-strafe them, and that’s about it. The game has fewer items and fewer combat moves than past titles, it’s not even close. As I dislike QTEs I have always had mixed feelings for the almost QTE-like “press A for a jump attack” moves of the Gamecube games, but entirely removing those moves from the game was probably not the right solution. Sure you have more weapons in this game than ever before in a Zelda game, but all any of them do is basic swing and poke attacks.

There is one big addition, though, and that is a physics engine. It allows you to do some amusing things, including rolling rocks down hills, starting small fires, blowing things up, and more. I’ve only seen a little of this myself, but having seen more online, yes, you can do some cool things… but that is not a full replacement for the more complex combat of before. And anyway, like usual with open-world games, that results in a lot of scenarios drawing from that same limited playbook. I’d much rather have fewer but more carefully designed encounters and physics puzzles that are each more interesting and fun, versus more things that all blend together because there are so many of them and many are not as special. The different environments do change things up, and I’m not far enough in to the game for combat to feel repetitive yet, and I know that there are some monsters which require different strategies such as the Guardians, giant rock monsters, etc… but still, while this game is good, it’s not a design style I’ll ever like as much as a conventional Zelda game like OoT or TP.

On that note, while there are a lot of reasons why Zelda is one of my favorite videogame franchises, including the action, puzzles, exploration, and more, puzzles are a huge part of why I love Zelda games, so I need to talk about the puzzle element of BotW. Where previous Zelda games have a series of puzzle-heavy dungeons to play through, BotW has a large open world, and they chose to make this open world just a world to explore, not a puzzle-filled one like the overworld of Skyward Sword. There are some hidden corners you will need to work your way to with your climbing and abilities, but for the most part this games’ puzzle elements come in the aforementioned shrines and in the games’ four dungeons, not in the overworld. I have not seen the dungeons yet, but they kind of sound like expanded shrines conceptually and apparently are sadly not on the scale of classic Zelda dungeons. As for the shrines, those I have played some of. Each of the 100-plus shrines is very small, and gives you one or two classic Zelda-style puzzles to solve, or one challenging boss-style enemy encounter to defeat. Either way these are always pretty fun stuff, and they make good use of your very limited selection of special abilities. I like the shrines, and if I actually stick with the game for a long time (which is unlikely?) could see wanting to find a lot of them; these are the part of the game that feels the most Zelda-like in the ways that I like Zelda games. But then they end after a couple of minutes and it’s back to the too-big-for-its-own-good overworld… ah well. Traditional Zelda dungeons are definitely better, they usually don’t leave me wanting more like BotW shrines do. They also don’t usually have much in the way of combat in them, which works with how short they are, but hurts them compared to past 3d Zeldas — the nine shrines I’ve gone through so far, all combined, would not be as great as the first dungeon of a traditional 3d Zelda, I think, though the puzzles (or fight, in one) in them are often pretty cool stuff.


Now, all through this article I have mentioned this games’ limited selection of key items. In all past Zelda games, you start with only a few abilities, but gain more as you go. You almost always get a new major item for each dungeon, and it helps you reach the place and also to complete it. This game is completely different, however. In BotW, you have only four main items, and you get all of them on the plateau at the start of the game. Beyond that you can have large inventories of food/potion items, weapons, shields, and bows, as well, which are all things you will be collecting and using or dropping all the time as you go along.

But first, the key items. They have two problems. First, there are only four of them, which is way too few. One is the old item, bombs, brought back again. The other three are more new, though, as they create ice platforms out of any water source, allow you to move around metal objects, and allow you to freeze certain items in time. It’s always great to see the new item ideas Nintendo comes up with, and these are some good ones. Why are there so few of them, though? These are interesting, but for a game this long I would have liked to see more. Now, some weapons are usable in interesting ways, to light things on fire, blow things around with bursts of air, and that’s great, but isn’t a full replacement. You also have a VERY limited inventory at the start; if there’s a way to expand that I badly need to do it, because the weapon inventory particularly is way too small. When you combine the tiny inventory with the constant need for new weapons because of the annoying weapon-durability system that requires you to constantly switch weapons while fighting because of how fragile everything is, it gets annoying fast.

The other issue is with the decision to give you all four of those items right at the start of the game. I understand the reason for doing this, as they want you to be able to explore the whole world right from after you leave the plateau, but I don’t like it. Previously, Zelda games always gave you items over time, usually one per dungeon. Nintendo first experimented with something different in A Link Between Worlds, but I didn’t like that design much at all; there you can only rent most of the items, and can do so in any order so there isn’t a clear progression from dungeon to dungeon as you usually expect in Zelda games, as they could not make dungeons assuming you had any items other than the one required for that area. Many Zelda games may make poor use of items from previous dungeons, but that goes too far. And anyway, I want to permanently get items, not just rent them! This game doesn’t do that, fortunately, but even so, allowing people to go anywhere in your game right at the start can be problematic, because one of the best ways to design a game is to have a steady increase in difficulty and, in a game like this, item selection as you move through a game. Allowing players to play levels in any order can work, as it does in Mega Man, but too often it leads to flat difficulty “curves” that bore players because the challenge almost never picks up, as in Knuckles Chaotix. Whether that flat curve is too easy or too hard, it’s not as good as a more traditional design which steadily increases as you go. Here, if anything, the game is apparently harder at the start than the end, because once powered up you are quite strong. That may be satisfying, but is it really good design?

Beyond the key items, BotW makes even bigger changes to the usual Zelda formulas with how it handles the rest of your inventory. First, all of your melee weapons, bows, and shields have that durability system added which means that they will break, CONSTANTLY. You also start with a very small amount of inventory space for weapons, which doesn’t help at all. This can be expanded, slowly, if you find the right semi-hidden items, but it is still a problem. Weapon durability in this game is ridiculously low to comical levels, and the mere feact that weapons are left all over does not make up for it. This has been one of the more criticized elements of this game, and it deserves it.

Less bad, though, is how BotW handles healing. Previously, some enemies, chests, pots, or what have you would drop hearts, and you would heal if you pick them up. Alternately, faries can fully heal you if you die. Some games also allow you to buy limited-used healing potions you can put in your inventory. This time, however, healing hearts are gone. Instead, you need to collect different types of foods and then eat or cook them. Fortunately they use their own separate inventory section, and you seem to be able to hold a lot of the stuff right from the start, unlike weapons. That is good. These foods come in two types, for food or for potions. Edible foods mostly come from collecting plants, killing wildlife creatures, and such. You can also make potions; these require you to mix bugs, frogs, and such with body parts that you get from killing enemies.

So yes, Zelda has a crafting system now. For either, you can either eat the raw items and get a limited amount of healing, or find cooking pots that are scattered around at certain points in the world and cook together ingredients there to make meals or potions. If you put together ingredients that form a good recipe you get that item, but if you don’t you get junk food that barely does anything. This is an okay idea, though I’ve always greatly disliked crafting. At least this crafting system is fairly simple and isn’t the main focus of the game, thank goodness. The big issue here is, there is no ingame recipe list at all, so either I’ve got to just not care much about what I make, try to memorize it all, or look up a list online. This is really bad game design with no excuse, you need an ingame recipe book in anything like this.


Finally, graphics and sound. As I said, the game looks great. For overall art style I do think that TP has the best art design ever in the franchise, but this game builds on the “cartoony but with a bit of realism” style of Skyward Sword, but probably because of the better hardware it looks even better than that game does. This is a really nice looking game. There are a lot of great vistas to see as you climb the mountains, forests to explore, lakes to be afraid of because of the stupid endurance system, and more. This is a very good looking game despite the somewhat dated hardware it is running on, and it runs pretty well.

Aurally, however, the game seriously lacks, as most of your adventure is done to just sound effects and environmental sounds! Previously the Zelda series always had some of the best soundtracks ever in gaming, but this one ditches that in favor of a very understated, minimalist soundtrack and a lot of environmental sounds from the things near you. This works I guess, and the sounds can be alright, but the overall audio presentation is mostly forgettable and average in ways Zelda music never has been before and that is very disappointing.


So overall, maybe ten or more hours in, Breath of the Wild is a good but flawed game that takes the Zelda series in a direction I wish it hadn’t. It was probably inevitable that Zelda would eventually succumb to the open-world tide, but while there definitely are things I like about this game and I will keep playing it, I, at least, wish that Nintendo had made another traditional 3d Zelda game. But with the rapturous reception this game received, will we ever see one of those again? That’s sad to think about… but we’ll see, I guess.

With this game, here’s the question I am thinking about above all others: if this was some other game, nearly identical to this one but not Zelda, would I be playing it? And if I was, would I stick with it? I’m leaning towards “maybe” and “probably not” as the answers to those questions. However, is that because of my just not giving it enough of a chance, because of my very longstanding bias against open-world games? … Maybe? Right now I don’t know.

Posted in First Impressions, Modern Games, Wii U | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Game Opinion Summary Article Hyperlink Updates – Finally Completed!

So, I’ve spent some time over the past few days working on finally finishing up the tedious but worthwhile task of adding hyperlinked Table of Contents sections to my Game Opinion Summary articles. It may seem simple but it is a time-consuming task, particularly for longer articles like the first two of these. After these four I found out about how to do these and have been putting contents hyperlink sections in each update as I write it, so this should be it.

The articles updated are: Playstation Part 1, Playstation Part 2, Nintendo 64 (2015) Addition, and Atari 5200.

Posted in Atari 5200, Classic Games, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, Updates | Tagged | Leave a comment

Review: Splatoon (Wii U) – A Surprisingly Great Shooter from Nintendo

… Sorry the site was down for a couple of days. Fixed. And here’s a new review too, finally, of a game I have been playing a lot of for the past month or two.


Splatoon is an online multiplayer-focused third-person shooter developed and published by Nintendo in 2015 for the Nintendo Wii U. A big hit, at least for its relatively unsuccessful system, Splatoon still has an active online player base; I got the game last month, not too long after I finally, at long last, got a Wii U in April, and have almost never waited more than a minute or two for a match, and usually it is much less than that. Considering that the game is several years old and on the Wii U that is pretty impressive.

As for me, When I got this game I was hoping to like it, but I wasn’t sure. While I have liked some of them here and there, I am far from a big fan of first or third person shooters. It’s never been a favorite genre of mine, and my interest in online shooters is even lower; I played a few online shooters back in the late ’90s to early ’00s, but have never really been hooked to one like I was to Blizzard’s RTSes, for example. Splatoon is supposed to be great, yes, but that doesn’t mean I’d like it. Making things worse, while many popular games drop in price over time, this one hasn’t really. I paid $40 for the game, and that was actually less than Gamestop, say, charges for the game. Nintendo has decided to keep their game prices high for most of their games, not dropping prices like other publishers do, and Splatoon is no exception — $40, for a three year old game? Well, it better be good…

And it is! Splatoon, in both single and multi player modes, is a great and surprisingly addictive game. It takes the basic form of a shooter and changes things up with completely unique gameplay: Splatoon is all about painting the world. The game has a charmingly weird sense of style, as you play as humanoid squid-children who can switch back and forth between a squid form and a human form, and that affects the gameplay in some pretty cool ways, but the painting is Splatoon’s most unique feature, and it is at the core of why I like this game so much. I love maps in games, and particularly ones which you fill in as you go. This game is all about quite literally filling in the map to win, and that is amazing.

Controls and Gameplay

Splatoon is, again, a shooter with a twist. You play as a form-shifting squid child called an Inkling armed with an ink weapon, and go around painting the world or ‘splatting’ other Inkling squid-children by covering them with ink. In all modes there are two sides, each of whom has a different ink color they use. It can be red and blue, orange and purple, or more. While the single player campaign is a solo affair, online multiplayer is a four-versus-four game exclusively, so this is largely a team game. That design works well, as I will explain later. The basic controls allow you to use your main weapon, use your sub-weapon and superweapon, move around, switch to squid form while you hold down a button, and jump. You can also aim several ways, as described below. Many weapons allow you to either fire normally, by holding down the trigger, or use the weapon an alternate way by tapping it. With rollers or brushes for instance, if you tap the trigger you splatter paint around, but if you hold the button you paint the ground. Other weapons charge instead, so the longer you hold the button the stronger the attack. It’s quite varied. Each attack type is useful in different situations. You can only use one weapon at a time, which you choose from the main menu before entering a match. You use up ink as you use your main or secondary weapon, and an ink meter on screen shows how much ammo you have left.

As for that ink though, well, the game calls it ink to fit with the sea-life theme, but it’s basically paint, except with a waterey twist. While in squid form you move more quickly and are nearly invisible within the ink, but both of those only work within your color of ink. Additionally, while in your color of ink in squid form your ink-tank ammo meter will refill, so you will need to switch back and forth to recharge. I like it better when shooters don’t make you recharge, Doom-style, as it’s annoying and frustrating to run out, but it does add some strategy to the game. Squid form may sound great, but you cannot attack while you are a squid, only when you are a kid, so you will probably spend most of your time as a humanoid. Squid form is mostly useful for refilling ammo, faster movement through the level through areas already inked or for when you want to try to hide from your opponents, then. Those functions are all key to this game though, and the balance between squid and kid, movement and attack, is very well thought through and is done just right. The wall and floor-painting-focused gameplay may be Splatoon’s most unique feature, but the squid/humanoid dichotomy is nearly as important and it is just as unique. It’s a key behind what makes this game so interesting and fun, as zooming around as a squid can be great fun, but you’ll need to pop out sometime to ink the world or try to get your opponents… but can you do that safely? It’s great design, both fun and challenging.

Now, there is one more element to Splatoon’s controls that I need to cover in more detail, and that is aiming. There are two ways to look around in this game, either with the right analog stick on the Gamepad, or with tilt motion controls, as your view will move around as you move or tilt the gamepad. With motion controls on you can still use the right stick to change your view on a horizontal axis, but not a vertical one; that is motion-only. If you turn off motion controls then only the right stick controls you view. Some people like motion aiming and some do not, but I think it gives you much better and more precise control over your aim, particularly your vertical aim, than just an analog stick would. The motion controls are fantastic for looking up and down or a little bit to either side, and it’s definitely the best way to do those things. It is great that they left the right stick enabled for horizontally turning the camera, though, because the stick is better for quickly rotating the camera. This is because the Gamepad is large and bulky, and turning all the way around to see behind you is not always feasible while sitting holding the thing. Despite that though, the motion control element to the game is great and works very well. I’ve found myself trying to aim by moving the gamepad around in other Wii U games that don’t have support for this… heh.

Another important part of the game are your armaments, and there are many types of weapons available for online play. In single player you have only one main weapon, a basic machine gun style splatter gun, a couple of sub-weapons to choose from, and limited-use superweapons. You don’t have options here, but works well for the kind of campaign they made. For online play however you can choose between many weapons, including sniper rifles, machine or Gatling guns, giant rollers, brushes, buckets, charge guns, splatter guns, and more; there is a wide variety, with something for everyone. Each weapon type feels quite different as well, so trying out a lot of them is rewarding. As I love inking the ground the rollers are definitely my favorite though, they are the best at thoroughly covering surfaces with ink. In addition to your main weapon the game also has many sub-abilities available. In single player you can select between three or so that you can purchase with points you collect in the levels, but in multiplayer each weapon has two preset sub-abilities. There are many weapons available, including similar weapons that only vary in which sub-weapons they come with, so you should be able to find a weapon with sub-abilities you like. The first kind of sub abilities include grenades of several types, sensors to detect where your opponents are, and more. These can be used at will, but use a lot of ink for each use. The second type of subweapon is a more powerful attack that takes time to charge. As you ink ground a meter fills up, and once you fill up the meter your super ability can be activated. Super abilities include waves of bombs you can throw out, giant ink-strikes that hit a point you target on the map, a Kraken mode where you turn into an invincible Kraken squid for a little while, leaving a trail of ink and hopefully opponents behind, and more.

When you get hit you take damage, though there isn’t a damage meter. Instead, ink of the other sides’ color starts filling up your screen. If this damage gets too bad your are splatted and you get sent back. How this works is different in single and multi player; in single player there are checkpoints you go back to, but in multiplayer you go back to your start point on that map. In multiplayer, you will also have to wait a few seconds after being splatted before you respawn and can start out again, so there is a penalty for being knocked out. Single player has a penalty as well, though I will discuss that later. Inklings cannot take much damage before they get splatted, so staying away from enemy attacks is important. The quick splats and respawns keep the game moving at a good pace, and for the most part the health system works well. Sometimes it can be hard to know how much damage you can take before you get splatted, though; it all varies depending on what your and your opponents’ equipment and abilities are, so as the game does not display any damage numbers, much less have health bars, it can be vague sometimes. Still, again, the combat and pacing are done very well.

Additionally, unlike many games on the Wii U, Splatoon makes great use of the screen on the Wii U Gamepad, its main tablet-like controller with a large screen in it. Ingame in multiplayer games, the screen is used for an incredibly useful ingame minimap which doesn’t only show you which areas each team has inked at the moment, critical information to have, but also allows you to super-jump straight to the location of any of your teammates anytime you want. This is usually marked with a circle on the ground, so astute enemies can wait for you to land and splat you, but when used right these jumps are a key to victory. Note that because of this you do need to use the Gamepad itself with this game in everything other than the single-system multiplayer mode, you cannot use a Wiimote or Wii U Pro Controller. That’s fine though, that map display is great. As a result of this the game also doesn’t have off-TV play support, unlike most games on this system, but with how central the second screen is to the game it is understandable. Unfortunate, but understandable.

All of that may sound interesting and unique, but perhaps the most impressive thing about Splatoon is how well it all comes together. This game has extremely responsive controls, unique gameplay that fits together incredibly well despite how different so many elements of the game are from genre norms, a great control scheme laid out just right on the Gamepad, good use of the Gamepad’s second screen, a good sense of speed as you zoom around as a squid, satisfying action with a variety of weapons, lots of ground to have fun covering with ink, and so much more. Once you’ve played it a lot the game can get repetitive, as there is only so much to see, but it stays fun despite that.

Characters and Features

When you first start up Splatoon, you start by creating a squid character who you will play as in the game. You can customize your character, but the only options are your gender and skin color so customization is limited, though the games’ many clothing options allow you to look more unique. Even so, it’s great that they have those options at all, because Nintendo games usually have male-only protagonists and very, very rarely let you play as a non-white or light-skinned Asian character. This game is different. You can’t name your player, though; instead, once in-game the name displayed is the name of whatever the Mii linked to your Nintendo account is. If you change which Mii is representing your account your Splatoon username will change along with it, so it is not set from the start, thankfully. This works, though it means that nobody has a set username you can actually look up. I presume that this was done as a part of Nintendo’s near-paranoid efforts to hamstring their online services in the name of protecting children, as if you just reveal Nintendo account names online or something someone would have a much easier time finding someone than as it is, where it’s just whatever Mii you are currently linking to it.

Anyway, with your character set you can start the game. The main menu is not just a list of options, but is a moderate-sized plaza that you can move around in. You will see other squid-kids there, representing other people who were in matches you competed in recently I believe, though it is not actually an online space. Here you can walk to the various places on the map, or, much more conveniently, you can just touch those points on the on-screen minimap on the Wii U’s Gamepad screen. This use of the Gamepad screen continues ingame, as described above, and it’s great. Thanks to the quick links on the pad there isn’t much reason to wander around the plaza, unless you want to find some person you fought recently and buy a copy of an item they have equipped, but it can be fun anyway.

The places you can go include entrances for the Single Player or Multiplayer areas; a guy who will sell you clothing items you see on people on the plaza, for a high price; a minigame area where you can play the Squid Jump 8-bit-style minigame; and entrances to the shops that sell equipment. The equipment items that you can buy come in four varieties: weapons, shirts, shoes, and headgear, and a different shop sells each type. Oddly, you cannot change your pants; all Splatoon kids wear regulation black shorts, no other options are available. That’s odd, considering how different everything else can look, but I guess it works. I think the sequel will have more options though, and that’s nice.

Now, equipment is not only visual. Each weapon, shirt, head, or foot gear item has several attached enhancements, between two and four each. More expensive ones are more likely to have four, as you might expect. When you buy an item from one of the stores you won’t know what its enhancements are, either; they unlock after you use that item for a while. Item enhancements in the game include ones which increase your attack power, hide the bubbles that usually give away your location when in ink as a squid (but with a penalty), decrease ink usage, speed up ink recharge time, and more. Which you get will depend on the luck of the draw, so this is another random element in the game. These modifiers only slightly alter your stats but they do matter, so you need to consider function as well as form when you choose what to wear.

Minigame: Squid Jump

Either from the main plaza or while waiting for a multiplayer game, you can play a simple little minigame with 2d, NES-style graphics called Squid Jump. In this game you play as a squid, and have to try to get to the top of what I believe is an infinite number of stages. Making things tricky, you cannot move left and right on a platform; instead, all you can do is jump, and adjust your trajectory in the air by tilting the Gamepad left or right. You also can alter your jump height based on how long you hold the jump button down for before you release it. That’s it for the controls, though. The game plays well, but because you cannot move around while on a platform, you need to plan your jumps carefully. Don’t go too slow, though, because the water is slowly rising behind you, and you need to jump to the top of each stage to escape! It’s a fun little minigame to play while waiting, and the game keeps track of your best score.

Modes: The Basics

Most of your time playing will be in the two main modes, though, either the single player campaign or online multiplayer. The single player story mode is short, estimated at five hours at most, but it’s a lot of fun while it lasts. It’s an only moderately challenging campaign that both goes through a story and prepares the player for some of the basics of the main multiplayer game. In the multiplayer menu, you choose between four options: Turf War, Ranked, or Team versions of each of those two modes. Turf War is the main mode, where you ink terrain. There are three modes in Ranked, though, which the game will switch between day to day; more on that later. I’ve never tried the Team modes, but while more options would be great, having only two main player lists admittedly does help keep the player base up, and it is still very easy to find a game.

While there are only maybe ten multiplayer maps and a couple of modes, Splatoon does several things to keep you playing online. First, there are two ranking systems in multiplayer, a level-based one that only increases until you reach a cap of 50, and a ranking-based one for the Ranked mode only which will go up or down depending on your performance in that mode. The ranking system can be frustrating as you need consistent wins to advance and it is never clear why you gain or lose as many points as you do, but it works. The game does one more thing on top of those to keep you coming back, though, and for me at least it’s more controversial.

That is, multiplayer-mode Splatoon locks what you can access each day. This is one of the games’ defining elements, and it is both good and bad. At any given time, you can only play two maps in Turf War, and only two maps in Ranked, both locked to one of the three Ranked modes. Every time you turn on the game, or when the rotation changes, teen Inkling idol hosts Callie and Marie introduce the four maps currently in rotation and give some jokes about each one. That’s amusing, but do you want to play a different map or Ranked mode? Sorry, you can’t, you’ll need to come back later to do that. Similarly, the shirt, shoe, and headgear shops only display five items per day. If you want something else you don’t have, come back tomorrow to see the new random selection of five items each. You can, however, buy any weapon that you have unlocked at any time; that’s nice at least, and I wish the other shops worked similarly. Put together these limitations do a great job of encouraging longer-term repeat play, for a shorter session per day, and that is probably the intent. However, I really dislike that you are locked out of so much of the game at any time. When I want to play but am stuck with only some of the least interesting maps available and the least-good Ranked mode, it encourages you to just stop playing for now and that wouldn’t be a problem most shooters have since most have more options than this. But on the other hand it keeps you playing and focuses everyone on only two multiplayer queues, helping make it easier to find a game, so it’s not all bad. Overall though, the time-based limitations work, but I wish they’d been a bit less restrictive.

But anyway, on to more detail about the modes, single player first.

Modes: Single Player – Hero Mode

I covered many of the important details about single player earlier, but I should sum it up here. Single player mode in Splatoon mostly plays and controls similarly to multiplayer, but in a very different game structure. Here levels are mostly linear instead of being open areas, they have almost as many platforming elements as shooting, you are following a story, and the game has a traditional level-and-boss structure, to name the most important differences. Your armaments differ as well, as again you have only one main weapon here, a machine-gun type weapon. You also have only three sub-weapons available, and can choose between them once you buy them. Superweapons are even more restricted, as you cannot just normally equip them; instead they drop as one-time-use powerups in boxes in the levels, so you can only use superweapons when the game allows it. This works well for the kind of game they have made, as limiting their use helps with the difficulty balance I am sure. I never really missed them, your main gun and squid and jumping abilities are usually all you need.

The single player mode’s story is simple, but it’s good enough. The Inkling squids’ enemies, the Octolings, have attacked and taken some creatures that provide power to the squids’ city, and you need to stop the villains and get back the electric-bulb things they stole. There is one at the end of each level. That sounds basic, but the writing is amusing and the conversations during this short campaign are fun stuff. Anyway, ‘save the day from the bad guys’ is all the plot most games need, and it’s fine here. The humor is decent, and there is some good, interesting backstory in the hidden collectibles in the stages (details below).

The single player game is accessed from the main plaza, and has its own overworld map to explore. The campaign consists of five areas, with five levels and a boss in each one. The overworld map has no enemies on it, but there is something to do, as you need to actually find the levels. Levels are marked with hatches, but they do not appear until you ink the area, so you’ll explore around each area, inking everything you can find until you uncover the locations of the stages. You can play the levels in each world in any order, an can quick-warp to any stage by touching it on the minimap on the Gamepad, but you do have to beat all of the levels in an area before you can face that worlds’ boss, and must beat each boss to move on to the next area. The game was never hard enough to make me want to give up on a stage and go try a different one instead, but still this is a nice idea and it does work. The game has a decent difficulty curve as you go along and while mostly easy, it does get tougher later on.

One thing making this mode harder that I have some issues with, however, is the continue system within a stage. Now, as mentioned previously, when you get splatted in single player mode, you return to the last checkpoint you reached. However, there is an indicator on screen, and if you are splatted three times without making it to the next checkpoint or the end of the level, you lose, are kicked out to the overworld, and will need to start the level over from scratch. If you do reach the next checkpoint, though, one mark is added back on to the “lives” indicator, giving you an additional chance from that point. As a result of this, there were a few times that I had to repeatedly restart a level over from the beginning because of a hard part near the end, and that is not much fun. I’d much rather see it kick you back to the previous checkpoint, for example, instead of forcing you to replay the whole level. I understand the need for some challenge here, but this is a somewhat frustrating way to do it.

Despite that though, very few parts of this game are hard. Perhaps the main reason for this is one of the games’ few significant flaws: it doesn’t really have competent enemy AI. There are, sadly, no bots available in multiplayer (so far as I know), and most opponents in the single player mode are very basic ones that stand in place and shoot you or just move back and forth and such. The few times you do fight against Octoling opponents moving around in small arenas or versions of the single player levels, the fights are very easy and end in seconds almost every time. This is a great game, but it would be better with good enemy AI and bot options. FPSes had those things the better part of two decades ago, why doesn’t this one now?

Apart from that though, Splatoon’s single player mode is really good. It is short at maybe five hours long, but they do a good job of covering for the seriously lacking AI because of the level designs and nature of the challenges you face along these compeltely linear stages. You will need to jump over gaps by inking areas and then getting past the obstacle before the ink is erased, avoid sniper-type enemies long enough to get close to them so you can take them out, navigate narrow platforms while under attack from obstacles you may or may not be able to fight back against, and more. It’s fun stuff. Each of the five bosses is completely different too, and all five of those fights are well designed and quite satisfying. In classic Nintendo style you need to figure out how to hit the boss three times. The single player isn’t just good on its own, though, it does also begin to prepare the player for multiplayer. Indeed, people unfamiliar with shooters definitely should play through the single player mode first. Without good AI opponents it won’t prepare players for everything they will face in multiplayer, but it does introduce the basics of how to play the game pretty well, and it’s fun and rewarding along the way.

Oh, and if you want something more to do after finishing the game, there are two additional challenges. First, each level has a hidden page in it. These research note pages show various things, such as the history of this world, sketches of weapons, and more. They’re interesting stuff, and finding some will unlock new weapons in multiplayer as well. That’s good, but the other added mode is more annoying: as I mentioned earlier, there are a second set of challenges, one per level, that require the Splatoon Amiibos in order to be accessed. I believe you need all three of them to play the full set, of course. I don’t have those (yet anyway) but may have to buy them sometime… bah, I’d rather not.

Modes: Multiplayer

The single player mode is fun, but the core of Splatoon is its multiplayer. Single player is a solo experience, but both public online multiplayer modes, Turf War and Ranked, are four-on-four team battle fights. The only way to play with less than four people per side is Private Match mode, which I mentioned earlier but have never tried, and the Battle Dojo, a decent but not amazing two player single-system mode. That latter mode is interesting, but the main focus here is on online play, so that is my main focus. I will cover each mode separately below. There are about ten multiplayer maps, but again you will only be able to play four at a time, two per mode. First, though, I want to say a bit about a few things all of the multiplayer modes have in common.

First, while the single player levels are linear stages, multiplayer levels are large arenas. Each of the approximately ten levels is unique, and most feel very different from each other. Interestingly, all maps are almost exactly mirrored along a line somewhere in the middle of the stage. On the minimap you always start on the “same” side of the map, though this is impossible of course, and in most maps there is no way to tell which side is which. I did notice some very small differences on the sides of a few maps, so maybe they all have hints, but for the most part each map is the same on each side. This makes things fair, as one team will not have an advantage over the other based on their starting position, so it was a good level design idea.

One thing that all modes in this fast-paced game have in common is a timer. Matches are kept short, as you have only three minutes for Turf War or five for Ranked modes. As previously mentioned, unlike single player you can get splatted as much as you want in multiplayer, you are just punished with a few seconds’ delay before you can start out again. Splatoon is the perfect game to play for a few minutes, but it is also very possible to look up and realize you have been playing for an hour.

Another similarity between the modes are your armaments. I mentioned some weapons in brief earlier in the Gameplay section, but they have a large impact on the multiplayer in particular since this is where you will see most of them. During matches there are a lot of ways to play, and your choice of weapon will differ depending on your playstyle. Sniper weapons are great for long-range attacks; rollers for maximum inking — they’re my favorite, but are terrible at range; gatling guns are powerful and shoot a lot of ink, but only shoot in bursts and drain ammo fast, so you’ll need to press the fire button repeatedly and fill your ink up even more than otherwise; brushes make a very narrow trail but spread a lot of ink around if you splatter it around, which is fun but drains ink fast; and many more. Both for you and your opponents, the weapon variety is a key to the game. Knowing the difference between weapon types is a great skill to learn.

Next, details about each mode in turn.

Battle Dojo: Offline Multiplayer in Balloon Battle

The Battle Dojo in the plaza houses the aforementioned offline multiplayer mode. In this two-player mode, one player plays on the TV with a Wii Classic Controller or CC Pro, or a Wii U Pro Controller. This isn’t a mini Turf War game, though; instead, you play Balloon Battle, a mode where both players compete to see who can shoot the most balloons within a three minute time limit. You can shoot the other player of course, to splat them and send them back to their spawn point after a delay, and you can ink the ground for faster movement, but your goal is shooting those balloons. The match starts with a few, and more will spawn as time progresses. That’s all there is to it.

Balloon Battle mode is alright and can be fun, but it’s definitely not one of the best things about this game. For one, there is no map in this mode; an onscreen minimap would be nice, but no, you just have to know the stages. Worse there are only five maps available here, all cut-down versions of some of the main maps, and only eight weapons are available, covering most of the basics but that’s it. Weapons only have their main attacks and primary (grenade or what have you) sub-ability, too; super abilities are not attached to the weapons, but instead are pickups in crates here, much like they are in single player. You cannot even play as your regular Inkling here either, or customize either character; one is a generic Inkling Boy, and the other a generic Inkling Girl. I know not all maps would fit well with only two people, but even so it’s weird that this mode is so restrictive. It’s nice that they have this TV-and-Gamepad multiplayer option, for a local multiplayer mode where each player cannot see what the other is doing, but traditional splitscreen support for four players for 2-on-2 Turf War matches would have been fantastic and better overall. This is an amusing mode to try sometime, but Turf War below is the main draw.

Multiplayer Mode: Standard Online Play – Turf War

Turf War is Splatoon’s main single player mode. All of the multiplayer maps are available in this mode, cycled through two at a time of course. I mentioned it already, but this is a simple but fantastically fun four-on-four-only game where you try to cover the whole level with your teams’ color of ink. There is a three-minute time limit for each game, and when time runs out, the team whose color covers more of the stage wins. Only ink on the floor of the level counts, it is important to say. You can paint the walls, but it’s only useful for moving around to an area up that wall, not painting the map. There isn’t a percent indicator on screen during the match, though, so if it’s close you’ll need to keep trying right up to the end, when the games’ mascot cat Judd will show the final map, say what percent of the field each team covered and thus who won. Turf War is Splatoon’s most unique and iconic mode, as it makes perfect use of the painting mechanic. Sure, you can and will target and splat the other players, but that isn’t how you win; indeed, you can make a major contribution to victory with few or no splats if you are effective with your inking. This is awesome stuff because, again, I love maps, and particularly filling in an ingame map, so the core gameplay here is incredibly satisfying. This less violent form of first / third-person shooter gameplay is simple, innovative, and great.

When the match ends, after Judd shows the winner and finishing stats, you get ranking points for the games’ level system, and money which you can use to buy equipment with. You get both ranking points and money regardless of if you win or lose, though you will get more ranking points if you win as there is a +1000 point bonus for being on the winning team. Turf War’s stat screen shows three things for each player: their finishing point total, which I believe is based on turf inked, plus a thousand for the winners; how many times you splatted other players; and how many times you were splatted. Those last two do not affect your score, they’re just to see how well you did.

Multiplayer Mode: Ranked Mode – Tower Control, Splat Zones, and Rainmaker

Ranked mode is different from Turf War in two ways. First, your objectives are a bit more complex, and more directly confrontational than Turf War is. And second, there are higher stakes because of the ranking system and penalty for losing. While in Turf War there is no penalty for losing other than just getting fewer points, in Ranked mode you lose ranking points when you lose and, if the other team wins with a Knockout, you also don’t get any money either; you will have a score on the results screen, but won’t get anything for it. The ranking system starts you at grade C-, and each hundred points of rank moves you up a grade mark until you max out at, presumably, A+. I’m currently at B- at the moment, which is as high as I’ve been so far. It takes time to build up rank, and you need to win consistently in order to rank up because once you get out of C- you will lose as many ranking points for a loss as you will get for a win. I haven’t played much of online FPSes with win-or-lose online ranking systems like this before, but I don’t know that I like it — it’s much more stressful than normal Turf War mode is because of the risk of losing rank, and it often feels like my overall record doesn’t matter, only my current streak. Unfortunately however you have to face the ranking system, because I really like two of the ranked modes. They’re a lot of fun and add some nice variety to the main Turf War game.

There are a few other similarities between the three Ranked modes. First, scoring, Again, in all three modes here, unlike Turf War, an indicator is on the center top of the screen showing how close each side is to winning. This works as a countdown timer, as each side starts at 100 and will win if their indicator reaches 0. Additionally, while Turf War has a flat three-minute timer, Ranked is different. You can win with a Knockout if you achieve your main objective in the match, but there is one other way to win a ranked match: if a team is behind, but is controlling the modes’ object of contention — either the tower, splat zone(s), or rainmaker — when time expires, the game goes into Overtime. If that team can then win without losing control of the aforementioned object of contention, then they win. If, however, the other team stops them even for an instant, then they lose. Comeback overtime wins against the odds are unlikely, but they are possible, and can feel great, or not good, depending on which side you turn out. In one recent match of Splat Zones my team managed to lose despite having a huge 3-to-53 lead with under a minute remaining; somehow we just completely fell apart and they won in overtime without us regaining control. Other times things go the other way though, so Overtime is a nice feature.

One other interesting thing are the maps. While Ranked mode plays on the same maps as Turf War, they are modified here for each mode, and not all maps are in all modes. Some maps just would not work well for the design styles of some of the modes, so they have understandably been removed. More interesting, though, are the level design changes. There are some obvious additions to meet with the ways each mode plays, but some maps actually have altered level layouts as well. Some stages have additional pathways open that don’t exist in Turf War, for example, and others close some paths. I think I like the Rainmaker version of Camp Triggerfish more than the Turf War version, for instance, because it opens a connecting path in the center.

Now I will say a bit about each of the three Ranked modes and how they play.

Tower Control – In Tower Control, you have to get a tower, which starts in the center, to a goal on the other teams’ end of the map. The small, rectangular tower moves along a track marked on the ground, and you have to stand on top of it to make it move forward. It will only move when one side has more players than the other on top of the tower. If you get the tower all the way to the other teams’ goal within the five minute time limit, you win automatically. If you don’t, then the team which got farther wins, based on scores that are displayed on the top center of the screen during play. That’s Tower Control; it’s simple, but challenging and a lot of fun. This is a fantastic mode, and it is my favorite of the three Ranked play modes. You will quickly learn the route on each map and where the choke points are, but every match is different because of the games’ myriad play styles. I like how the moving tower doesn’t allow one side to just sit in place and win, you need to constantly be on the move with the tower. It’s great stuff.

Splat Zones
– My least favorite of the three Ranked modes, Splat Zones is an area-control mode. In each map in this mode there is a rectangular zone marked out somewhere on the map, and you need to control it for 100 count on the countdown counter on the screen. This mode is all about camping, which is probably why I find it much less fun than the others; it’s not really about going around inking, or trying to bring something to a goal, but sitting on a central point and defending it. I like inking, not sniping, so I don’t like this mode that much. It can be fun at times though, and I do like the one map which has two Splat Zones instead of one. You need to control both at the same time to make the counter decrease, so it’s a tricky one to win but that added complexity is great. As for the other maps, though… one Splat Zone really is just a camping sniperfest. Blah.

Rainmaker – Rainmaker is a bit like Tower Control, but more freeform. At the center of the map is the Rainmaker, a special hat that you need to bring to a goal pillar on the other side of the map somewhere not far from the other sides’ base. The Rainmaker has a shield on it when no one is wearing it, though, and you need to shoot it enough with your color to make the shield pop. This sends out a wave of ink that will splat nearby opponent Inklings. When wearing the Rainmaker you are marked on both players’ maps so long as you are in humanoid form, so it’s hard to hide, but you have a special weapon. Instead of your normal gun, you use the Rainmaker instead, which shoots tornados of ink straight ahead. The weapon charges, so the longer you hold the button the larger the tornado. The Rainmaker is powerful, but holding it you are a magnet for attacks from the other team so it mostly balances out. Rainmaker’s a fun mode, but I think I like Tower Control a bit more; you can lose track of where the Rainmaker is, and it can be overpowered. Still, it’s a pretty good mode.

Multiplayer Mode: Team Modes and Private Match

The Team modes, for either Turf War or Ranked, are the same as the regular modes described above, except instead of playing with random teammates, you play with teammates from your Wii U Friends List, against other similarly not-random teams. I don’t know how easy it is to find matches in these modes because I’ven ever tried it, but I imagine it’s tougher than regular random matches are. Please note that Splatoon has no voice chat support at all, even in a friends match, so if you want to chat with people you’ll need some external app. I’ve never used voice chat in any online game so this is just fine with me.

Private Match mode is a little different. In this mode, you and people on your Wii U Friends list can play any mixture of maps and modes, only with yourselves and not anyone else — so you’ll need enough people to fill up both sides of a match. As I have nobody on my Wii U (or even Wii) friends lists, I’ve never used this. It’s pretty annoying, honestly, that the only mode that actually lets you play all of the maps is locked to a friends-list-only thing! There should at minimum have been a single match mode for you and AI opponents. That’d have required competent AI bots of course, but the game should have that too. Still, for people with Wii U Friends set up, friends codes and all, it’s a nice option.

Graphics, Style, and Sound

Splatoon has a strongly unique visual style and it looks great. The art design is somewhat anime-inspired, but the squid and sea-life aesthetic is taken in an original direction here. The game is all about inking ground and looking stylish, and visually it does both really well. Thankfully, unlike far too much anime there is nothing creepy about this game, too; it’s sad that I have to say it, but with anime you never know. There is nothing like that here. The Inklings do all look the same apart from gender, skin color, and clothing, but there are so many clothing options that there are surely thousands of possibilities for how you can look. The clothing has variety. Looks include various ‘brands’ and themes, different types of clothing from t-shirts with symbols to various button-up shirts, special weirder items, and more. Headgear includes everything from many types of hats to other things like headphones, as well. That’s just aesthetics, but again the most impressive thing here is how seamlessly the game merges gameplay and design. The whole squid/kid thing is weird but the game makes it work, both stylistically and in gameplay as you seamlessly switch between both forms in ways that make this game unlike any other. “Are you a squid, or are you a kid?” Both, of course, and the gameplay relies on it.

Technically Splatoon runs really well. Ever since the Gamecube Nintendo has cared a lot about framerates, and apparently Splatoon runs at about 720p at an always-smooth 60 frames per second. As I can barely tell the difference I don’t know if I would be able to tell if the game was 30fps or 60 on my own, but it is important that the framerate is so stable, that matters a lot in a game like this. The game doesn’t have anti-aliasing, unfortunately, in order to keep the framerate up, and that does hurt it, but otherwise Splatoon shows off the Wii U’s power.

Aurally, Splatoon has a weird but catchy soundtrack of faux “squid music” and “squid pop”. There are some voice lines in a fake squid-language, and lots of odd sounds throughout the songs. It’s hard to describe, but as a result Splatoon’s audio is easy to recognize. It’s not my favorite game soundtrack, but the music is good and is somewhat unique sounding. The games’ odd sounds and pop-styled vibe fit the games’ theme very well.


Splatoon is a great game which took an established genre and did something unique with it. It also asks questions, only some of which it answers — how did the world come to be this way? Are the characters juvenile delinquents, or is all this inking actually state-sanctioned? And while you can only play as a squid-kid, otherwise you can create the character you want, still a somewhat uncommon thing in Nintendo games. The game looks good and runs great, too. The reason the game is so memorable and popular isn’t because of any of that, though. It is because of the fantastic, very well polished gameplay. Many games are unique and original within their genres, but uniqueness and quality are by no means connected; many times games which try new things don’t quite work in some way. And while I may make some minor quibbles about Splatoon — about my dislike for the ‘come back tomorrow to play other maps, only two for today’ system, for Splat Zones, about how short and easy the single player game is, the absence of good AI opponents, and such — they are just that, minor. Splatoon is an extremely well-polished gem and it is one of the most addictive first or third person multiplayer shooters I have ever played. I’m glad to have gotten it while it is still easy to find a game online, that’s for sure. Once Splatoon 2 for the Switch releases Splatoon 1 numbers will surely decrease as they move over to the sequel, and being on much more popular hardware than the Wii U is I expect that game to be a hit, but the original Splatoon is also a great game that should be played. I give it an A rating. Splatoon is very highly recommended, try this game whether or not you like shooters.

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