For over 10 years prior to the launch of their N64 system, Nintendo sat fairly comfortably as the top dog in the video game console market. That all began to change by the mid-90s, however. Following Sega and Sony's (then) next-gen console face-off throughout much of 1995, Nintendo somewhat controversially opted to wait until the following year to release their own competing hardware. One of the main reasons for this decision was so that they could allow enough time for a sufficient pipeline of software titles to be ready to support the console (and not wind up in the same embarrassing predicament Sega had with their premature launch of the Saturn). While the delay did likely hurt them a bit with regard to potential sales lost, it also ensured that the N64 would make a strong impact when it did finally arrive (the lack of which for the Saturn no doubt contributed to that console's early demise).
While the official US launch date for the Nintendo 64 was intended to be Sunday, September 29th, 1996, as advertised, the vast majority of retailers broke that release date and began selling them before the start of the weekend. Following its successful launch, the Nintendo 64 achieved modest success throughout its life. The decision to stick with cartridges in the age of the compact disc, along with a slight lack of third-party support, would cause Nintendo's system to be pretty handily outsold by Sony's PlayStation console. However, the Saturn's early departure from the field, combined with an absolute wealth of outstanding first and second-party titles, still solidified the Nintendo 64 as both an unquestionable success for Nintendo, as well as an object of great affection for Nintendo fans, and gamers, everywhere.
With the end of 2019, the 2010s also finally came to a close. And now that I've looked back on all the great games of 2019, it's time to take a look back at the decade as a whole and talk about the titles that really stood out as the very best of the best. It may have been a long 10 years, with lots of changes in the gaming world, but it was chock full of gaming experiences that were absolutely second to none. While it may have pained me to narrow so many fantastic games down to only a dozen, I have done exactly that, just for you. Here are my picks for the 12 best games of the 2010s:
Happy 2020! It's a new year once again (and a new decade as well), and that means it's time for another round-up of the best games from the previous 12 months. 2019 was another amazing 365 days of great games to play. So many great games, in fact, that narrowing down my choices to merely a select 12 proved particularly difficult this time around. In the end though, I was able to get it done, and now feel sufficiently confident in my selections. I hope you will too. So without further ado, I humbly present, my picks for the 12 best games of 2019.
Well, the 2019 Electronic Entertainment Expo wrapped up a few days ago and it was definitely a memorable one for quite a few reasons. There was plenty of exciting news from the world of video games, as well as the typical head-scratcher or two. As with most E3s, there were far too many games shown and announcements made to possibly be able to cover everything in a single post, so I went ahead and condensed it down to a more easily digestible dozen for you. So without further ado, here are the top 12 highlights I have selected that were either unveiled or reconfirmed at the event.
Games For Dads is a column featuring new or recent games that I feel are ideal for being played and enjoyed together by parents (dads, in my case) and their kids.
Welcome back to Games For Dads! It's been a few years now, since my first and only entry. At the time I had kind of assumed that the coming years would be rife with great Nintendo titles for me to enjoy with my son. Since then, my wife and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our family (who I look forward to gaming with in the coming years), but I haven't seen nearly as many must-play co-op experiences from Nintendo as I'd expected. There were one or two, to be sure (Yoshi's Woolly World is definitely worth a mention), but between the relatively quiet closing year(s) of the Wii U, and the fairly sparse opening year of the Switch, it's mostly just been titles with pretty lackluster co-op options (if any at all), or Switch ports of stuff I could have covered already on the Wii U (Mario Kart, for instance).
Yoshi aside, (I chose not to cover Mario Kart because my son isn't that big into racing games yet), there's been shockingly little else worth mentioning. Until recently, that is. Last month, Nintendo (and HAL Laboratory) gifted us with what is arguably the best original couch co-op multiplayer game to come to the Switch so far, as well as one of the finest Kirby games ever made.
It should go without saying that Kirby games are always family-friendly. Boys and girls of just about every age seem to adore the little pink puffball. Even with my son having grown a little bit older and more discerning, Kirby: Star Allies was still an instant hit for him. I picked the game up on a Friday and he basically played it for the entire weekend, only stopping to take breaks when he was hungry or his parents asked him to.
You've Got a Friend In Me
Every new Kirby release in recent years has done a good job of bringing some unique new feature to the table that has helped to differentiate it from past titles. Kirby: Triple Deluxe had a power-up that bestowed Kirby with the ability to inhale extra-large items, including obstacles and sometimes even scenery; Kirby: Planet Robobot introduced various fun little mechs for Kirby to tool around in. Kirby: Star Allies features a mechanic that, though similar to something that had previously been seen in Kirby: Super Star, has been significantly revamped and improved upon here - the ability to create friends.
Unlike the single pal you could have in Super Star, and only by swallowing and then dropping an enemy, in Star Allies you can instantly make multiple friends just by throwing hearts at them. Once hit by a heart, most enemy types will instantly convert into computer-controlled allies (hence the title). What's more, you can have up to three of them at any time.
The "make friends" mechanic is pretty ingenious as it offers a quick and easy way to assemble a fairly varied, super-hero team style crew of helpers to assist you. Additionally, the game offers local same-screen co-op for 2-4 players. That means you can recruit up to three real-life buddies (or family members) to play as any, or all, of your virtual ones. Meta Knight, indeed! While his sister is a bit too young still (and his mom doesn't play many games outside of Tetris and Dr Mario), I can tell you that my son and I had quite a blast playing it together, just the two of us.
With Your Powers Combined
In addition to the fantastic four-player friending frenzy, Star Allies also brings back an improved power-combining mechanic similar to the ones found in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards and Kirby: Squeak Squad. What it allows you to do is combine just about any two powers in the game. So, for instance, crossing parasol with sword creates a splash sword. Beam and bomb gives you zap bombs. What do you get when you cross a staff with fire? A fire staff, naturally! And those are just a small portion of all the possible power pairings; there are literally dozens of others that are discoverable throughout the course of the game.
My son and I were only too happy to try and figure out all the different power combos as we played. One of our favorite discoveries was what happens when you cross stone with ice. A couple months ago, I had just introduced my son to the wonderful world of winter sports, thanks to the detailed television coverage of the PyeongChang Winter Games. So, you can imagine our excitement and surprise at traversing a level in our brand new Kirby game and then suddenly seeing him transform into a familiar-looking slip-sliding (enemy-smashing) curling stone.
Figuring out how to combine (and utilize) all the crazy power combinations is easily half the fun of Star Allies. What's also cool is that the ability to combine powers isn't merely limited to Kirby himself, as even his frienemies can get in on the fun. What this invariably results in is a delightfully chaotic ballet of different characters bounding all over the screen, hurling various elemental powers every which way. Moments like these are a joy to behold and kept my son and I endlessly entertained.
Easy On the Eyes
So, even though Kirby: Star Allies does feature awesome AI/person-controlled multiplayer as well as slick new power combination options, it is a touch on the short side. My son was actually able to beat the game (with really not a whole lot of help) after only a few days. But, like past Kirby games, there are a couple of mini-games available from the start, in addition to a couple of extra modes that unlock upon completion of the game. Between these, the fantastic variety on offer in the main game, and also items to find and collect in every level, Star Allies does feature enough content to make it worthwhile.
As the first Kirby game to arrive on Nintendo's current most-powerful system, Star Allies is also pretty nice to look at. While Kirby games aren't typically known for pushing the envelope where graphics are concerned, they are always colorful. And this title does a great job of utilizing the Switch hardware to really make those colors pop. Even my little daughter seemed to be entranced by what she saw on the screen. (And I have a feeling that when she's ready, Star Allies will likely be one of the first games that she takes to.)
The music and stages are a great mix of the new and familiar. My son played enough Kirby titles over the past couple years to feel right at home with Star Allies. The great thing about the Kirby franchise, one of the key reasons it enjoys such mass appeal and staying power, is that the games are so easy and inviting to pick up and play. Yet, a truly great Kirby game manages to be engaging and fun despite the familiarity and simplicity. That's what you get with Kirby: Star Allies - the perfect blend of old and new that is easy to learn and a whole lot of fun to play. Whether you're a longtime fan of Kirby or you've just been introduced, you're sure to enjoy this one. Kirby: Star Allies is a winner for kids and parents alike.
(This is a repost of an article that also appeared on 12/12 Games.)
Game Changers is a semi-regular column featuring games which have had a significant impact on me over the years. Games that were so incredibly stunning and awe-inspiring, they changed my conception of what a game could be at the time. Previously, I have written about Out Run, Street Fighter Alpha 3, and Red Dead Redemption.
When the first-person shooters first rose to prominence, they were almost entirely non-existent anywhere besides the PC. Console controllers at the time simply weren't equipped to handle movement and aiming together in any kind of intuitive way. That all changed with Rare's 1997 smash hit, GoldenEye 007.
Rare made expert use of the uniquely designed Nintendo 64 controller when implementing the control scheme for the game. They utilized the brand new controller features like the analog joystiq, yellow C buttons, and gun-like Z trigger for more natural-feeling movement and shooting than had been possible before. The brilliance of their control scheme was that it worked so well with Nintendo's oddball controller. A device design that had previously left many fans scratching their heads suddenly made (some) sense. It seemed almost as if Nintendo had designed the controller for GoldenEye, and not the other way around. What's more is that for the first time, a game developer had successfully created an acceptable way to enjoy the wildly popular first-person shooter genre on a home game console.
While the first-person shooter control scheme may not have ultimately achieved perfection until 2001's Halo on the original Xbox, GoldenEye represented an absolutely crucial stepping stone along the path; basically, the only real stepping stone. The game opened up the world of first-person shooters to millions of people who only liked to play games on their television sets. The genius of this timeless classic cannot be overstated and the controls are only but one of the numerous reasons why.
It happens every year. Every year, without fail, at around this time, "real" news [and I use the word in inverted commas, because really - game releases and hints at game releases aren't really "news" at all. They're - at best - terrible product placement] drops right off the radar.
Why? Because some PR drone way up on high has decided that nothing can leak out prior to E3. And that results in what fans generally call "lots of slow news days." While that's a problem, E3 - and shows like it - have a far bigger issue that I want to tackle.
Please note: This article is LITTERED with links. They will open in a new window and will take you off-site.
Now that four-in-February is behind us, I thought I'd take some time to look into games that I'm at least a little curious about for the calendar year of 2016. I have divided my choices into three broad sections:
Things that will almost definitely be with us in the near-future or before the end of 2016.
Things that might make it into 2016, but you never know.
And, finally, things that I'm totally worried about. Sometimes with good reason.
So, let's take a look and see, shall we? Read more
My comfort zone when it comes to video games extends to slow games. I like adventure games. I like turn based strategy games [assuming there aren't a billion units]. I like turn based role playing games [assuming there isn't a stupid ton of micromanagement]. So, platformers are generally right out. The speed of a platformer, coupled with the number of enemies and the level of sheer frustration those games can engender just make them not worth my while.
But I've been trying. I most recently beat Evoland 2, a game that takes some inspiration from platformers of the past. I also beat Shovel Knight, again, earlier this year, because I love that game a great deal.
Both these games are great, but they're modern and have modern gamers in mind. Evoland - thoughtfully - saves your progress every time you change scenes. Shovel Knight has a clever, player-directed difficulty setting where you can either break your checkpoints or you can leave them intact, allowing you to make the game incredibly difficult, or just "somewhat challenging."
Banjo-Kazooie, however, comes from a different time. A time when men were men, squirrels could get their own game and you could still get away with making a cutesy, animal-based platformer.
Banjo-Kazooie is this last, a cute, animal-based platformer that doesn't really take itself seriously at all. The plot is pretty simple: Bad witch discovers she's not the nicest looking witch in all the world. A bear by the name of Tooty is. She decides this simply will not do, kidnaps the bear with the intention of swapping bodies and gets caught in the act, red-handed by a mole named Bottles. Bottles yells for Banjo to help his sister, which, basically starts the adventure.
The creepy nature of the plot aside, Banjo-Kazooie is a blast. You start at Banjo's house where Bottles teaches you a couple of moves that you can use to jump, stomp and run through each ensuing level. For the first few worlds, your move set will slowly broaden until you can fly, bomb creatures from the air and run extra fast with the help of a pair of running shoes.
Each level is a complete little world, with it's own particular perils and theme. In one world, you might be in a winter wonderland, while in another, you may be traversing a scary mansion. No two worlds are ever quite alike. Each has its own [fantastic] musical theme, little character designs that show just enough personality to be memorable [but, given the brief nature of your visits to each, don't get fleshed out overmuch] while never getting in the way of game play or bogging the player down with superfluous fluff.
This particular game comes from an age that incentivized exploration through collectibles. In Banjo-Kazooie, the main "currency" of the game is the musical note. You can pick up 900 of these and each note that you pick up brings you closer to opening sections of Gruntilda's [the witch] lair. At the beginning, you simply need fifty notes to progress, but as the game slowly winds up the difficulty crank, so it expects you to rise to the challenge of collecting ever more notes.
To unlock future worlds, you need puzzle pieces that complete picture frames throughout the lair. Again, starts off simple - you only require one of these to get into Mumbo's Mountain, but by the time the game winds down, you're going to make sure you're scouring levels for as many as you can get. These are - in the game's parlance - Jiggies.
Jiggies are earned through doing a collection of little "quests" throughout the level you're in and these are great. It's a very rewarding way to entice the player through the game. Some are fairly "standard." There's a Jiggy for collecting a "collection" of Jinjo's - little, bird-like creatures that have been scattered throughout the levels by Gruntilda, while others are more esoteric and need far more work. In one of the very last levels, for example, your patience with a young bird [that you hatch, yourself - and then later feed, too] is rewarded when, at last, the bird takes to the skies and reveals the Jiggy it was holding onto for you.
There are other collectibles: extra lives, honeycomb pieces [that extend your life bar] and Mumbo tokens [which allow you to visit the local shaman, Mumbo and be transformed into something native to the world you're in. In one world you might be an ant and in another, you might be an incredibly adorable walrus.] all of which you'll seek out, but the main game requires that you simply collect notes and Jiggies.
And this seeking out is the most fantastic thing about the game. Modern games will hold you by the hand and guide you, step by step through what you need to be doing next. Shovel Knight had the over world. Evoland 2 - while incredibly open in it's second act - still has a structure you can follow. Banjo? If you're smart and wily, you can sequence break - going into worlds that you should only visit further along in the adventure. Likewise, each level is wide open. You can start at any point [for the most part] and collect any Jiggy you choose. [This is almost always true. A couple of worlds force prerequisites on you - Clanker's Cavern has an entire second half that can only be done by doing a very specific Jiggy-related task.]
One of Banjo-Kazooie's greatest assets is this variety. You never quite know what you're going to run into while you're playing and this makes it easy to want to play. If there's one thing modern gaming has entirely lost, it's the element of "what's around the next corner" and this particular game has that down to a fine art. Wozza the Walrus won't deal with me if I'm a bear, but how about when I'm a walrus, too? There's this very weird camel guy in Gobi's valley that says all this funny stuff, I wonder if I can get him to move? All these little things add up to make Banjo-Kazooie a joy to play.
But it is not without its faults.
One early move you learn is a maneuver that allows you to toss eggs, but it's never as accurate as you'd like it to be, because 3d gaming was in its infancy and trying to aim your "missiles" so that they did what you wanted could be quite daunting. This is - to a lesser extent - a problem with every move in the game. 3D wasn't a perfected art at this point, so judging distances - especially when you're high up in a level and the prospect of falling is a clear and present danger - could be tricky. One of my single biggest gripes with the control of Banjo-Kazooie was that they didn't just come to a complete stop. Often, if you're running in a direction and you take your hands off the controller, there's a little gap between your action and the action on screen. Essentially, the bear and bird pair will skid to a halt a couple of steps further than you meant for them to be. This can create a weird kind of terrible tension where you absolutely need to stop dead, and sometimes, the game will keep moving you, plummeting you to your doom.
In the same vein, the forced swimming is atrocious. You get "used to it" by the end of the game, but it is difficult to control, has a tendency to make you overshoot your actual goal and drowning is a thing that can really happen.
And when you die...
...Well, I mentioned that this was an old game with an older design paradigm, so when you do kick the bucket, your notes that you collected get revoked. You're forced to re-play that section of the game again to re-acquire all the notes you just lost so that you can beat your "note score" for that world. This can be a frustration at the end-game where the levels get increasingly more difficult and require particular dexterity on your part. [Engine room in Rusty Bucket Bay, I'm looking at you!]
Besides, at least this frustration has been dealt with in the XBox re-issue of the game.[that you can currently snag through the Rare Replay compilation.]
This Xbox version introduces it's own set of frustrations - Motzhand's organ plays exactly the same note regardless of which key you hit while you're working with that particular puzzle. All of the Nintendo branding and shout-outs are gone [this is understandable, but sad] and that special kind of tension where you lose all your notes when you die is gone. [This can swing both ways. On the one hand, the challenge can be interesting. On the other, it can also be particularly frustrating.]
What do I think of Banjo-Kazooie? I think it's absolutely worth experiencing. The current re-release does some things rather differently, but if you've never played it, this would be the place to start. Of course, if you want the original experience, you should attempt to find it for the Nintendo 64.
This is easily, behind The Dig, one of my favourite games this year.