Guild Wars Memories and Screenshots, Part 13: April – November 2007

Introduction

Yes, this series is back, though it surely won’t be as interesting as before due to my interest in the game being highest in its first few years.  This article will be short, with 19 screenshots, but the shots are much higher resolution and detail now as I got a new PC.  The next update, covering my shots from 2008, should have about the same number of images as this one does.  Expect that article soon.

In early 2007, I got a new computer.  No longer was I using a rapidly-aging Pentium 4 with WinME, instead I had a brand new Core 2 Duo machine with the then-new Windows Vista OS. Despite this, I found myself playing computer games less and less.  By 2007 I had mostly abandoned modern games in favor of my growing retro game collection, and that’s  very much where my attention focused.  I remember wondering if the new PC would revive my interest in modern games, but for the most part it did not.  That wouldn’t happen until 2017.

As an aside, while I still have the WinME machine and it still works, though, sadly the Vista computer stopped working several years ago and I haven’t been able to figure out how to fix it.  At first I thought it was the motherboard, but replacing that did nothing.  So maybe I managed to break something in the power supply?  Argh.  Oh well.  I miss Windows Vista and its nice transparent windows, it’s so much more interesting to look at than Windows 10 is on this machine I have now, but… oh well.  If only one of the two older machines could work, it’s far better for the WinME machine to work than the Vista one since a lot of games do not run well on a modern machine but do on that one, while there are very few games that don’t work on Win10 but do on Vista.  Still, I’m one of the few people who really liked Vista, so I miss the PC that these screens come from working… ah well.

But anyway, getting back to Guild Wars, as the article title suggests I wasn’t exactly playing much Guild Wars in 2007 or 2008.  I never would go back to playing hundreds of hours of the game, instead just playing the game a bit here and there instead of playing GW1 all day as I did sometimes particularly in 2004-2005.  And so, the 700-something hours I was at in April 2007 would take a long, long time to get to a thousand.  In fact, checking today, I’m at 1013 hours.  Yeah, barely more than than I had in early ’07.  Oh well.  On the one hand this means that there is a huge amount of content in Guild Wars that I’ve never experienced, including finishing most of the dungeons, playing most of the harder free content they added in the runup to Guild Wars 2, and more, but on the other hand, it means there’ still something to do in the game, you know?

And there are reasons why I  stopped playing.  One is that I particularly loved the random player groups in this game, and after ’06 that element of the game mostly faded away.  These screenshots start in April 2007, right when random player groups were dying off.  One part of that probably was declining interest in the game — most of the people I was playing with at college lost interest within a year or two, for instance — but also it was because of the addition of Heroes, those much more customizable and controllable AI allies Nightfall added.   As I said in a previous part in this series the late 2006 addition of Heroes in the Nightfall expansion was fantastic for solo players and the long-term playablity of the game once the playerbase was too low to rely on other people always being around, but it mostly killed off random player groups so I’ve always had mixed feelings about the change.  I liked the game better before Heroes than I have since, that much I know.

So yeah, to repeat from previous articles, I love the base game of course and really liked the first expansion to Guild Wars, but I wasn’t as much of a fan of the second expansion, late ’06’s Nightfall.  It took me something like ten years to finally finish the Nightfall campaign.  It’s actually pretty good, I should have played the rest of it sooner.  Maybe if player groups had survived 2006 I would have, but they didn’t.  But we’ll get to my finishing Nightfall much later.

Making the whole situation worse, I’m not one to be in a large guild or often be able to play the game with friends after the mid ’00s, so from this point on I was playing mostly solo or in the Random Arenas only.  The problem is, a lot of the later content that ANet added to the game after 2007 is very difficult for the solo player.  With good builds for you and your Heroes, people can beat that stuff solo.  I always preferred to just play the game with whatever build I’ve come up with myself and like and not look up good builds, though, so my attempts at the harder added content mostly ended up in frustration and with me giving up.   I probably should have spent more time looking up good Hero builds, but I didn’t do that enough for them to be good enough to get me through the harder content, and without any other humans to group with like 99+% of the time after 2006, I often found it too hard to proceed.  It’s nice that they added more content after the last of the too-few expansions, but most of it is aimed at the dedicated, very good players with humans to play with and such.  I’m neither of those things.  I love games a lot but never have been great at many of them.  Oh well.

Despite that, though, and despite that I haven’t really played Guild Wars at all in several years now, I deeply love this game and know I will get back into it sometime, like how I’ve really gotten back into Starcraft for the past month or two.  And so, here it is, my mostly-forgettable screenshots from 2007.  Though maybe that’s wrong; I really like the last two, they look great…

My Guild Wars Screenshots, April to November 2007

1

Here I’m talking with some random group party member about how much we’ve played the game.  As mentioned, between declining interest and Heroes random groups were dying by this point but you could still find one once in a while.

2

The map, showing my progress in the city.  Yes, I was continuing to play through Factions again instead of playing Nightfall, even though I’d finished Factions before and very definitely not Nightfall.  It was probably the right decision, Factions is a great campaign…

3

733 hours played since launch? That’s not much higher than my last hours count.  As I said it’s only at 1013 hours today.  But yeah, I’m back to playing as my main, Talindra, some.  That skillbar’s very similar now to how it is in this 2007 screenshot, and my character’s costume, the 15k scarpattern set, is unchanged.

4

Here is a shot of the first panel of my inventory.  Look, it’s a birthday gift!  ANet gave characters one each year.  Now you just get a birthday voucher, which is still nice I guess.

5

This is very similar to the last shot, but note the sellers in chat. For some reason the Nightfall main city, Kamadan, quickly became the main community hub in Guild Wars, a position it still retains.  I honestly have no idea why.

6

Looking at how weird it is that some things disappear underwater while others don’t is endlessly entertaining.   Why does hair disappear, for instance?  How strange.  Anyway, this is the Random Arena hub area.  Player populations have clearly declined, given how it hasn’t found a match.

7

Well, it finally found a match, and here we are fighting in the Random Arenas.  I hope the match went well…

8

Bah, that run must not have gone long.  It looks like we won that last match but not many, if any, more.

9

I’m probably looking at my Ranger’s two year birthday present now, and maybe exploring Seared Ascalon some as well.

10

A timed mission? I’ve always hated timed modes in games unless the timer isn’t tight. I don’t think this one was bad, though.  The graphics sure do look a LOT better on this computer though, don’t they?  The post-processing effects and such add so much.  Guild Wars’ exceptional art design has held up extremely well, this still looks great.

11

Run…

12

Here we get to some of the best-looking GW1 screenshots I’ve taken.  The ‘disable the interface for this shot’ command results in some impressive stuff at times. This winter forest scene looks beautiful.

13

And for another of the best shots in this update, an image of the sky and the crescent moon.  Guild Wars really does have some of the best art design ever.

14

Winter is my favorite season.   I’ve never been in an ice structure or cave like this but I’m sure it would be quite beautiful. The one in Guild Wars sure are.

15

Don’t get too distracted by the scenery, watch out for those ice golems… they’re not hard, sure, but still, in this game you can never be too careful.

16

It’s a new environment in this ice area, with a lot of squared-off somewhat diamond-like ice blocks.  Impressive stuff.

17

Some of my AI party members, running through the snow.

18

The rest of the shots I have from 2007 are from this tournament from a quest. You fight the tourney here against a bunch of your Henchman allies, including some members of the main four heroes. I took screenshots of a bunch of the text lines because I thought it was interesting to see their thoughts about the tourney.  Each character says something before and after your match against them.  I won’t post most of them for now, though; play the game yourself instead of being spoiled!

19

I’ve got to post this one, though. A Joe & Mac reference, really? Heh, that’s random… amusing, however!

And with that, my screenshots from 2007 end.  I would not play the game much in 2008 if my screenshots are to believed; I’ve got just one shot from January and only 18 for the rest of the year combined.  I hope some are as good as some of these are.

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Happy 20th Birthday, Guild Wars! A Return of Guild Wars Memories and Screenshots, Part 1.5: E3 for Everyone Character Creator Screens

Introduction and Update: A Few Thoughts on the Anniversary

Yes, 20 years ago today E3 2004 week began, and with it started Guild Wars’ first public test, the amazing E3 for Everyone event that got me excited for, and addicted to, this incredible game.  My memories of E3 for Everyone are strong, but time sure flies, huh… nothing we can do about that, though.  Anyway, most people would say that Guild Wars released in May 2005, but while that was its formal release, I’ve always thought of it as pretty much ‘releasing’ a year before that, when the regular public tests began.

It’s actually kind of funny, recently I was looking back at some old posts of mine, and I found a thread from April 2004 where I was defending World of Warcraft’s art style and sounded interested about its gameplay even though I wasn’t into MMOs.  While reading that thread, I couldn’t help but think, less than one month later my world would change because of this game, Guild Wars.  I mean, of course I was interested in WoW, Blizzard was my favorite developer and it was their next game.  But, once I’d played Guild Wars, my interest level in WoW went down significantly and never recovered.  As I said in my sidesstory article in this series about WoW and PSO, I did try WoW a bit, but quickly lost interest and mostly ignored the game because of how much less interesting it was to me than Guild Wars.  Guild Wars 1 looks better than WoW did then, plays better, and just plain is better.  Almost everything about it is amazing and fits what I want from a game better than anything else in the online RPG genre, from the lack of required grind to the lack of a monthly fee to the strategy of putting together an 8-skill build.

I do still love Blizzard, and have gotten back into their games over the past year, particularly the game that still is easily the best game ever made, Starcraft Remaster (expect a Starcraft article on this site in the not too distant future!), and also Diablo II Remaster and Diablo IV, a game I am still playing a whole lot of — I got back in on Season 3.  But World of Warcraft?  Sorry, it’s the Pokemon of Blizzard to me, an extremely popular thing by one of my favorite game companies that I don’t like much if at all.  That is partially because of what WoW is, a game in a genre that just is not for me due to being too open-ended and aimless, but also because of how exceptional Guild Wars is.

So yeah, Guild Wars is 20 now as a publicly playable game.  I’ve been thinking about the upcoming anniversary all year, and decided that I would restart Guild Wars Memories and Screenshots to commemorate the event.  This won’t be just one article, thankfully to everyone probably because THIS update is unlikely to interest much of anyone, but at least several.  As I said when I suspended the series there were several reasons I did that.   One were the sexual harassment allegations towards the games’ composer.  They are credible, and I think it was right to suspend this series for a while after that, but that isn’t why it took so long to return; he had already been fired from Arena.net before that and he has not gotten work in the industry again since.  ANet even replaced his Guild Wars 2 compositions.  Guild Wars 1 is still one of the best ever and the music is only one part of it.

So no, that wasn’t the main reason.  The most important was that I was past the time period where I played the game a lot, and past the pre-release tests, so what I’ve got from 2007 and beyond is in most ways much less interesting from the updates I did previously.  Of the time I’ve played Guild Wars, the vast majority was the thousand-or-so hours I played between 2004 and 2006.  Since then? It’s a game I go back to every once in a while, since it is one of the best games I’ve ever played and still is quite amazing in a lot of ways, but those times are sporadic and what I did in the game ossified down to mostly just solo content, mostly with my main Necromancer character, mostly with the same skillbar.  Considering that anyone who plays the game today can see this same content but with better graphics, random screenshots of this or that are, I think, not nearly as interesting for the most part as the pre-release content is.  Even so, I took some here and there and have always meant to get back to posting them.  I will do that, but first…

First, I decided to go back to my pre-release screenshots and post some more of those, because that is what is the most historically important.  I mentioned back in the first E3 for Everyone that I took an oddly large number of screenshots in the character creator.  Here are most of them.  Thank you?  After them are a handful of shots I didn’t think were interesting enough to post before.  One, at least, is actually reasonably interesting.  The others aren’t really but I’m posting them anyway to celebrate the anniversary.  I really should play Guild Wars again; it’s been a little while, I have to admit.  There are too many games… but I will get back to it, I always do.  Guild Wars has a permanent place in my top ten best games ever for a reason.  And that all started twenty years ago today with the E3 for Everyone public test.  Celebrating that important anniversary of this game I love with a bunch of boring screenshots is questionable indeed, but it’s what I’m doing, because I do have some more from E3 for Everyone and I’d like to get them out there.

Guild Wars E3 for Everyone Character Creator Screenshots

The first twelve screenshots show all six classes in both genders, looking as they did at the start in E3 for Everyone.  Please note that the secondary class has no effect on the look of the characters, only the primary class determines that.  Also, yes, Guild Wars has somewhat limited customization.  All you can do is choose between a few skin colors, hair styles, colors, and faces, and change your body scale on a slider.  Characters of the same class won’t all look the same, but will look similar.  I posted some of theswe before, but am posting the character creator shots all here again for completion.

One Shot of Each Class

First, the female characters.

The female Elementalist has the skimpiest outfit and most sexualized look of the classes.

Mesmers have a somewhat Victorian-ish style, and you see that here but with the front of the dress cut away either for looks or supposedly for easier movement.

This outfit isn’t the female Necromancer’s best, but it’s a good one which fits the class well.

The embroidered patterns on Monk clothing look cool. GW still impresses visually after 20 years…

My first choice of class was this one, the female Ranger. It’s a good design though certainly not her best outfit in the base game.

Breast plate! It’s not realistic, actual armor like that would not function. I get why games design this, it’s for looks and games don’t need to be realistic, but it looks silly if you know anything about armor.

Now the male characters.  These will be the only shots of male characters in this article.  Sorry about that.  Complain to the me of 20 years ago… heh.

The male Ranger has a good design.

The male Warrior, surely the most common character class choice in E3 for Everyone.  He’s even bald by default, fitting with the ‘bald soldier guy’ theme of ’00s games… heh.

The male Monk is somewhat iconic of the game.

The way the male Necromancer’s head sits on his body from this angle is kind of funny looking…

The male Mesmer here fits with the ‘somewhat Victorian-ish’ theme of the class well.

The male Elementalist is pretty plain looking, much less flashy and sexualized than the female.

(Female) Characters: Changing Some Options

Next, I’ve got some shots of what happens when you change some of the as-I-said-few customization options on a few characters.

Female Warrior, from behind and made much taller, look at that height slider. You can rotate the character in the creator but not turn them up or down.

Changed hair color and hair style.

Changed skin color

This is the palest skin color.

Brown skin

And here is the darkest color.

It looks similar, but this is a different female Ranger hairstyle from the first one.

This is actually the same as the first female Ranger hairstyle, it just looks different thanks to a color change. It’s surprising how much variation having only a few customization options can get you.

Monk side view, showing this ‘one side shaved, long on other side’ hairstyle.

And the front view.

While similar to the first Necromancer hairstyle, this one doesn’t have the things dangling from her hair.

This might be the first female Mesmer hairstyle. From behind that dress sure fits the class’ theme.

Again this looks similar-ish to the first hairstyle, but isn’t that one.  The reverse probably looks more different.

The reverse of the female Elementalist, with a different hair style and color.

The shots in between the last one and this just cycle through several of the skin color options and rotate the camera again.  I’ll skip those (there are seven more! Why?  I did not play as this class in this test…). This one with the blue hair and greyer skin is different, though.  This is the same hair style as the last shot, just from the front.

And that’s all that’s at all worth posting from the character creator.

Other E3 for Everyone Shots Previously Not Posted

While I did not take a lot of screenshots during E3 for Everyone, there are a couple more shots I didn’t post before that are of at least a little interest.

This is from the Stormcaller (Nolani Academy) mission lobby area, now after the mission timer started, it’s about to begin. I posted the shots before this in the original article, but skipped this one. I’m posting it now because these characters are kind of amusing looking.

Just before I Firestormed the Gargoyles, one of them threw this fire burst at me. If you go to the original article you’ll notice I took some damage in between this shot and that one.

… This has got to be one of the least interesting screenshots I’ve ever taken… no wonder I skipped it before.

And that’s it.  Literally the only other E3 for Everyone shots I have are the rest of the nearly identical character creator shots, a second one of the main menu just a moment after the first one from the original, and the shot a moment before I brought up the interface, in that same hallway at the start of Stormcaller but without the interface on screen.  So yeah, that’s really it for E3 for Everyone.  I will conclude with that other menu shot; I like it slightly less than the other one as the redness in the upper left part of the sky is less noticeable.

The week of E3 for Everyone was one of the most surprisingly fun weeks I think I’ve ever had in gaming…

 

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RIP, Wii/3DS Online, and particularly Splatoon 1 and Mario Maker 1…

This is not going to be a long article, but I need to discuss this topic.

So, tomorrow’s the day, Nintendo turns off Wii and 3DS online servers next morning.  I may have played a lot more Mario Maker 2 than Mario Maker 1, but even so I’m quite sad about this.  I know that with purchasing disabled online play being turned off as well was inevitable as few companies would spend money on servers forever for no return, but even so, it’s awful and should remind everyone yet again about how horrible for preservation our now ‘physical media is mostly dead’ world is.  Sadly, only hackers can save us from companies shutting off servers the moment a game or platform becomes un-economical, and not all games or services get such work.  I’d rather companies keep the official servers on forever, that is the best way.  That isn’t going to happen, though, so all we can do is rely on other means to save exceptionally amazing games like Mario Maker 1 from the deletion of almost all of its content.

The thing is, though, I do not like having to install hacks or such and still haven’t put custom firmware on my 3DS or Wii U, though I should soon now that it’s been fully shut down and Nintendo has left us 3DS and Wii U fans no choice.  And yes, I do still love these systems, and still use my 3DS almost every day.  I love DS and 3DS puzzle games that control with the stylus!   I just do not like touch controls designed for a finger anywhere remotely near as much as those designed for a stylus due to how much more precise styli are.  There’s a reason why we write with pens and pencils, and don’t dip our fingers in ink: increased precision is much much better.  It’s the same with games.  I understand the reason for having a cellphone with a touchscreen for using basic internet functions, but for the precision you need in a game there is no contest at all between 3DS or Wii U touch, with their respective styli, and the finger touch design of the Switch or Vita.  But anyway, I know I’ve said this before, and most people either don’t care or don’t agree.  That is truly unfortunate.

I don’t think there is much else to say about this topic, though, really, I’ve said it all before.  It is awful and will continue to happen more and more often as most media is now digital-only and thus can be deleted from existence much more easily than it could before.   All it takes is a company who wants to cut costs or get a tax writeoff and presto, that thing you liked is gone forever now unless pirates saved it!  Only consume new products, not anything old, that doesn’t make companies as much money.  Capitalism is a fine system, overall better than any other economic system humans have invented (particularly with some socialist elements mixed in), but this problem needs to be solved: we must stop the destruction of media.

Fortunately this time all of the Mario Maker 1 levels that are about to be deleted by Nintendo HAVE been backed up by the community, but other times, such as that new Road Runner movie that WB decided to delete out of existence without releasing, things just vanish forever without any kind of reason.  I know that the videogame market isn’t growing as fast as it was previously, while costs and development times continue to spiral out of control, so companies are trying to protect what profits they have, but some solution that allows for the continued existence of media must be found; we are going to lose too much of value otherwise.

Shutting down online play is one thing, and it’s sad; I deeply love Splatoon 1, it is my most-played Wii U game by a good margin.  Sure, the game got partially ruined by hackers, but it’s an amazing experience regardless and it is one that its sequels do not come close to; I still greatly prefer Splatoon 1 over 2 or 3.   That Splatoon 1 disc I have will be rendered mostly useless without online and most of its content will become inaccessible, as there is no botmatch mode.  But at least that content exists ON that disc.  Deleting millions of Mario Maker levels is something worse because they only exist on Nintendo’s servers.  Sure, many of those levels are awful, but many others are great.  A lot of truly amazing, fantastic levels were made for that game, levels which advanced the platforming genre in interesting ways.  That Nintendo is getting rid of all of it without any kind of official way to back it up provided is horrible.  Because we can’t assume that future consoles will all be hacked; some surely won’t be.  Anything deleted from those platforms will vanish entirely.  This day is another reminder of the great challenges game preservation now faces.   I hope that somehow preservation wins.

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The Worst Game I Own For Each Platform I Have

Uh, yeah, it’s been too long.  I haven’t been playing retro games much, honestly, other than Starcraft: Brood War, by far the best game ever made, which I got back into last week.  I should write something about that game sometime, though given how terrible I am at it it wouldn’t be the most insightful.

I have written this, though.  It’s an article about the worst game I own for each console I have, kind of the opposite of my ‘favorite games’ lists.  However, I didn’t go back and play all of these games before writing this, so a lot of this is based on my memories of playing these games years ago and the score I’ve given them.  Sorry about that.  I hope that at least some of the list is interesting despite that.  I know that my tastes do not always align with that which is popular, which is fine with me.  Everybody is different.

The Worst Game I Own For Each Platform I Have

3DO – Shadow: War of Succession. This absolutely terrible barely playable disaster is maybe the worst game I own. This is a fighting game and it’s as bad as games can be to the point where it’s honestly surprising that it actually got published. Shadow is a Mortal Kombat clone, which was popular at the time, but it has the absolute worst controls, moves, and gameplay of any MK knockoff I have ever seen, and it’s not close.

Apple II – I don’t have any bad Apple II games but uh… Fight Night, because I dislike the genre, I guess. It’s a boxing game and probably a good one given that it’s well thought of, but I’m just not interested in the genre at all.

Apple II GS – Another system I don’t have any bad games for. The weakest is The Hunt for Red October. It’s average.

Atari 2600, 2600 – Freeway. This is a boring Frogger knockoff where you can’t move left or right, only forward or back. Lame. This awful game is one of Activision’s worst ever. The idea was to make a multiplayer-focused game but not being able to move left or right just makes this game miserably dull.

Atari 5200, 5200 – I don’t have any bad 5200 games, but the least good one I’ve got is James Bond 007, which is below average. This side-scrolling vehicular action game tries to do interesting things, but fails at pretty much all of them. It’s a pretty big disappointment with confusing objectives and iffy-at-best controls and design.

Atari 7800, 7800 – RealSports Baseball. This is an awful baseball game, which is sad given that the 5200 game of the same name was pretty good. They are similar but in a lot of ways this one is a huge downgrade. The speech samples and more are gone from this one.

Atari Jaguar CD, JCD – Space Ace. This may be a classic, but I’ve always hated Dragon’s Lair, and this game seems even harder and worse than that one is. Sorry, I can’t stand this game at all, it’s awful.

Atari Jaguar, JAG – Kasumi Ninja wins here for me, easily. The insanely awful jumping — this is a fighting game where you cannot control your jump in the air like NES Castlevania or something — alone justifies giving this game in a very low F tier score. The rest of the game isn’t much better. This is the worst Jag game I have by a good margin. I’m honestly shocked that you don’t see the insanely weird jumping system this game uses mentioned more when people talk about this game because it’s probably the most unique, and worst, thing about the game.

Bandai WonderSwan Color, WSC – There are a lot of very boring anime RPGs and adventure games for this platform, so should I just call it a tie between most of those for worst WSC game? This platofrm’s library is one of the least interesting around, for me! But of the very few WSC games I’ve actually cared enough about to play, I guess One Piece Grand Battle: Swan Collosseum is the weakest. It’s a very mediocre, below average fighting game. NGPC fighting games absolutely crush this subpar effort with its bad controls and gameplay. This game isn’t an F-tier game but I don’t like playing it.

Bandai WonderSwan, WS – Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chousen Sha is the worst Wonderswan game I’ve played. I am sure there are worse Wonderswan games — some of those anime RPGs surely aren’t any good — but I haven’t played those games so I can’t rate them. This game is infamously mediocre, and indeed it is; it’s not a total failure, but it is a bad game with poor controls, level designs, and more. You really can tell that this game had little involvement from Capcom, which indeed it did not. Bandai got one of the developers of some of the Game Boy Megaman games to make this game, but this game is dramatically worse than any but the second of the GB Megamans. And as bad as it is at least MMII for GB controls well, so it’s better than this game by a good margin. Rockman & Forte for Wonderswan is as poor as its reputation suggests. Still, though, it’s a playable game that series fans (like me) probably should try anyway. Just expect it to be one of the worst Megaman games ever — it is.

Colecovision, CVIS – Facemaker is an okay little kids’ game, but it’s the worst “game” I have for Colecovision because it’s so, SO basic. You just make a silly face basically by selecting from premade upper, middle, and lower part options. If you do not count this as a game, and it really isn’t one, it’s edutainment, then Super Action Baseball probably gets the ‘honors’ here. That game is a well below average, forgettable game not worth playing at all today. The special 4 button controllers it needs really aren’t worth such a mediocre, multiplayer-only baseball game. Play RealSports Baseball for Atari 5200 instead, it’s much better.

Commodore 128 – There are C128 games? I have a 128, but like most people with one I don’t have any C128 games. The only releases from its lifetime were text adventures you can get on many other formats. Is this the worst library ever in a popular, well-selling machine? Probably.

Commodore 64 – There are a lot of bad C64 games, but I haven’t played most of them; I don’t use my C128 much. Of the few C64 games I have and have played, um… I don’t know. It’d be something average but not bad like Radar Ratrace, Speed / Bingo Math if you count that as a game, Keypunch Software’s Adventure Pak, or something like that… I need to play some actual bad C64 games I guess, there are lots of them… though probably fewer here than in Europe, they got a lot more C64 games than we did.

Commodore VIC-20 – As with the C64, the worst I’ve played for this system is something slightly below average. I’m going with The Sky is Falling, a mediocre title for sure but not awful.

Dreamcast, DC – Rippin’ Riders Snowboarding wins here by a wide margin. This is a game that, objectively, is probably merely below average, but subjectively I absolutely hate. This is one of the least pleasant to play games I’ve ever played, it’s absolutely terrible. Perhaps the worst thing about the game is the announcer that constantly insults you, but the course designs and gameplay are barely any better. This game is from the CoolBoarders (PS1) developers, and I don’t think they ever figured out what snowboarding is, their games aren’t anything like it at all.

Game Boy Advance, GBA – Cruis’n Velocity is a quite terrible early polygonal 3d racer for the system. It’s nothing like past Cruis’n games and is pretty terrible in every way.

Game Boy Color, GBC – M&M’s Mini Madness is my pick here. How this platformer is so awful I don’t know, isn’t that an easy thing to do a tolerably okay job at? But this is not tolerably okay at all, it’s terrible.

Game Boy, GB – While there are surely worse GB games, my pick here is somewhat based on nostalgia. The worst game I bought for Game Boy in the ’90s was Toy Story, and that is still my choice for worst Game Boy game. Objecively are there worse games, surely. But for me there aren’t. With an excruciatingly slow framerate, awful controls, and confusing objectives, this game is terrible. Some people have fond memories for this title, particularly on console, but I’m sorry I have nothing but bad memories of this awful disaster of a game.

Game Gear, GG – If you count it, and you shouldn’t because it isn’t a game, House of Tarot wins this easily. This title is a tarot card reading title only released in Japan. Yeah, it’s a horoscope program. In Japanese, on Game Gear. You don’t get much worse. If you want an actual game though, it’s close but maybe I’ll go with World Series Baseball? It’s just such a terrible baseball game, the fielder movement is ridiculous — the first, second, and third basemen are glued to their bases, while you move everyone else together. What. I also need to mention Taz-Mania though, the game is just about as bad and has what is almost certainly the worst soundtrack of any title released in the US on any platform.

Gamecube, GC – Genre fans may get something out of it, but for me it’s an easy pick here: Whirl Tour. This skateboarding game does basically nothing to teach you how to play. YOu already know how to play Tony Hawk, right? You’d better before playing this game. This game is pretty bad all around on top of that too, so no, I don’t know how to play and don’t want to learn. This is a learning curve not worth attempting.

Mattel Intellivision, INTV – Sharp Shot is a bad minigame collection consisting of three very basic games. It’s aimed to be for young children, but even they will probably be bored in ten minutes. Even so, this game isn’t utterly dire; it’s merely bad, not a total failure. You might be mildly entertained during some of those ten minutes.

NEC PC-FX, PCFX – The video quality may be great, but as a game I hate Battle Heat about as much as you can dislike something. The ‘FMV fighting game’ concept does not in any way work, as you see with games like this or Supreme Warrior. What you end up with is an extremely frustrating game that requires extensive memorization, as the only way to not lose is to know exactly what move to use at each moment. The video might be nice but the gameplay is abysmal. But hey, at least it’s a game, unlike most of the visual novel-focused titles on this disappointing console… I may love books, but visual novels have never interested me at all.

Neo Geo Pocket & NGP Color – Almost all of the NGP and NGPC games that I have are good, but the NGPC version of Pac-Man is sadly disappointing. The core of this arcade classic is here, but either you play with unpleasantly tiny graphics or the game zooms in so you can’t see where the ghosts are. This is an unsolvable issue of the screen resolution of a ’90s handheld, but it is an issue that kind of ruins Pac-Man.

NES – My pick for worst NES game that I own is the quite subpar beat ’em up/action game Phantom Fighter. Some people like this game. That’s fine, I can see why someone would, but I am not one of those people. This game has awful controls and is incredibly repetitive and basic! The game is just so boring, I don’t have any fun at all and don’t find playing it rewarding. I know there are even worse NES games out there than this, infamous titles I mostly do not own, but this one should be in the running for being on the list of bad NES games at least. I have to mention another game too, and it’s one everyone agrees is bad. Transformers: Mystery of Comvoy for Famicom is every bit as bad or worse than Phantom Fighter, and it’s a lot more infamous too. This game deserves every bit of its terrible reputation. Controls, gameplay, level design, enemies, the off-the-charts difficulty… everything here is awful. This is kind of the amusing kind of bad, though, the kind of bad game you walk away from thinking ‘yeah, playing bad games is fun’. And in a weird way it can be.

New 3DS, N3DS – The New 3DS doesn’t have any retail exclusives, but there are digital exclusives. A lot of those are pretty mediocre indie titles. On my list though, I’ve got the lowest scores by two* games which I gave failing ratings to: Stack ’em High and 3D Retro Dungeon Puzzle Challenge. The latter is a little mini first person dungeon game, which may sound good but it isn’t. The game has almost no content, and all levels except for the last are exceptionally easy. The last of the dozen or so stages does present a challenge, but when it’s the only one that does at all and teh actual gameplay is extremely basic FPS-ish stuff there’s no reason to actually keep trying to beat it.

As for Stack ’em High, it’s a competently made but very annoying dexterity puzzle style game. Various objects drop from the sky and you need to try to stack them up without too many falling off of the little platforms they are falling onto. It’s a solid idea that some games do well, but I just thought that this one is way too frustrating for its own good. You will lose, over and over, and it won’t feel fair; no matter how good your stacking is, they’ll fall off every time. Avoid this poorly executed failure.

Nintendo 3DS, 3DS – The worst game I’ve got for the 3DS is actually a physical cart release, and not one of the hundreds of digital 3DS games I reviewed in my 3DS digital download game opinion summaries series: Dream Trigger 3D. This game is an absolutely awful rail shooter-ish game and the neat 3d effect in no way saves it. This is a really really bad game, avoid it. As for downloadable games, the worst two I played are Space Defender – Battle Infinity and Bricks Pinball VI, which are both F-tier games mostly for bad controls. Both have solid classic arcade style game concepts, but with controls as poor as they have you won’t want to play them.

Nintendo 64, N64 – Sadly, Elmo’s Number Journey and Elmo’s Letter Adventure are probably the worst games on the N64. It’s not that I’mn too old for kids’ educational games; I can enjoy those if they’re good. The problem here is that these titles are exceptionally short, with maybe a half hour of content each, and are barely educational. Literally all you do in each game is walk around and touch dozens of a specified letter or number. The game says ‘touch 20 R’s!’ so in that level you touch all the R’s, avoiding other letters. And that’s the whole game. I know this is for young players, but seriously, this is far too basic a concept to work. There’s no math here, no reading beyond letter recognition, nothing but literally just “hit button by specified object for a few minutes then win”. It’s really bad.

If you don’t want to count those two as games, next worst on my list is War Gods. I guess some people don’t totally hate thgis game, but I do. War Gods was Midway’s first attempt at a 3d fighting game and I’d say that it’s probably the worst Midway game I have ever played. It’s kind of humorously incompetent, but absolutely nothing about it, not the poor graphics, lame characters, or anything, makes me ever want to play it, and nor should you. Sure, the game functions so it’s not as bad as say Shadow: War of Succession for 3DO, but the fun factor is about as low as it gets.

Nintendo DS, DS – L.O.L. and Legend of Kay are at the bottom of my list for the DS. The former is barely really a game, it is a messaging chat program thing, except not online of course. This “game” is local multiplayer only, it has no single player. With this cart you can text chat with other people nearby on your DS, if they also have this thing. Except… the DS has a built-in app for doing that! This is just that except with a few more features and a few awful multiplayer-only minigames, but given that text chat between DSes sounds like about the most useless thing ever to anyone not living in 2004, this cart isn’t worth the plastic it is made with. Avoid at all costs.

As for Legend of Kay, for those who remember the pretty decent console game, this Nintendo DS title is entirely different. The developers of the handheld Legend of Kay game made the strange decision to make this handheld adaptation of a third person action-adventure game into an overhead stealth game where you cannot attack enemies, at all, ever. Like, the perspective change makes sense. The genre change, though… why? I don’t get it. This is NOT a good stealth game, either, it’s probably the least fun one I have ever played! I have no idea why this game was made the way it is, but it’s unfortunate that it was. If it was actually a decent stealth game maybe it could have worked, but while it’s been some time since I played Legend of Kay I sure remember that not being the case.

Nintendo DSi, DSi – I do not have any of the couple of retail Nintendo DS games, but for its digital library, of the relatively few I have played Wizard Defenders disappointed me the most. This game is certainly not the worst DSi game, I’m sure there are some truly terrible little games released digitally for the platform. It’s just the worst of the relative handful I have actually played. This game is a blockdropping-style puzzle game with wizards of various colors as the ‘blocks’. It has some good ideas and almost could have been good, but ultimately it just isn’t, at all. If you like being frustrated and annoyed at unfair, random puzzle games which will make you lose without seeming to make any mistakes, go ahead and try Wizard Defenders. I do not find that my idea of fun so this failure is the worst DSi game I’ve played. That the concept seems interesting but the game isn’t that great surely is part of why the score ends up being that low.

Nintendo Switch, NS – The worst Nintendo Switch game that I have actually played is probably a digital-only release, Hover Racer. I like futuristic racing games a lot, but this exceptionally low-budget affair is so simple and boring that it barely even feels like a real game. The game has a decent if very simple look, but the gameplay is about as simple as you will find as you drive along the games’ narrow, simplistic floating roads, trying to finish in first. Slowly drive, that is, because there isn’t much sense of speed here to be found. It’s obvious that this was a game probably made by one or two people, and that’s fine, but it’s just too bland and basic to really be worth much playtime, unfortunately.

For physical releases, the easy pick is the one Pokemon game I have, Brilliant Diamond. I gave this game a try for some reason but I’m not sure why I did, it did not change my opinion of the Pokemon games one bit. I do keep thinking of trying the new ones since they change the classic formula, but the older ones like this thing? As with all Pokemon games before, what, Black or something the story is so simplistic that it barely even deserves to be called a story, and the gameplay is the same ‘do you know the rock-paper-scissors-ish unit counters’ turnbased RPG game that Pokemon has always been and I have never had even the slightest interest in trying to learn. If I hate any Switch game this one is it, it’s just so unbelievably boring! I know this is probably the most popular franchise of the last 30 years but sorry, that won’t make me like them any more than I ever have. With that said though, the Pokemon Ranger games on the DS were pretty good, I liked that spinoff, and there are some good Pokemon puzzle games. I don’t hate everything Pokemon just because it has the franchise on it. I just don’t like the gameplay much, don’t care about “catching them all” in any way, don’t find “collect all the creatures” an interesting gameplay hook, and find the barely-extant plot a zero out of anything as far as story goes.

Nokia N-Gage, NNG – It’s a tough one with this platform, on this thing just about everything is terrible with its awful phone screen and ludicrous button layout! But of the whole five N-Gate carts that I have, the worst is Sonic N. It’s a port of the well below average (I would say) GBA game Sonic Advance, except it’s significantly worse on the N-Gage since with its vertically-oriented screen you can barely see anything in front of you. If you enjoy fast-paced platforming where you can’t see anything in front of you, try this game. Otherwise stay far away.

Odyssey 2, O2 – I like the Odyssey 2, it’s a weird but good old console. Of its library, though, I have Thunderball! scored the lowest. It’s a pinball game, which is fine, except the physics are extremely poor and the screen layout very simple. Most early pinball games are like this, but this is one of the weaker ones of them. The physics and layout are just too basic to hold my interest at all. Thunderball!’s sadly pretty bad.

PC (1981-1990) – I don’t actually own all that many retail PC games from the ’80s; we got our first PC in ’92. I played a lot of shareware and freeware games from the ’80s, but didn’t buy most of those so those aren’t on this list.  There are a lot of ’80s PC games I don’t find interesting; I think computer games got a lot better in the ’90s.  The problem is, I have never played most of those games enough to be able to rate them.  So what’s the worst ’80s computer game?  I don’t know.  That freeware racing game motorman.com sure wasn’t any good; it’s one of those ‘drive along and jump over buses on your motorcycle’ games,  but… you don’t need ot jump over the buses.  You can just land on them and will pass right through.  All you need to do is just learn how to land and the game is over in minutes.  As for retail games, though, looking at my list, the lowest score for an ’80s game is a game that is actually pretty good if you like the genre, the highly regarded RPG classic Dragon Wars. I scored it relatively low because I got it in a collection in the late ’90s, and didn’t like that you need to draw a map on paper instead of the game including a map in the game (this was sadly common in ’80s first person RPGs) and that you need to go read paragraphs in the manual sometimes in order to save space in the game or something.

PC (1991-2000) – My pick for this, the best decade of PC gaming by far, is Beast Wars: Transformers. This PC/PS1 third person action game is one I first played a demo of back when it first released, and I thought that demo was was probably the worst retail game I’d ever played. That first impression stuck, which is why it’s scored the lowest here. I’m sure some people have fond memories of this title, but I think it’s one of the worst games I’ve ever played. The graphics are extremely bland, gameplay is exceptionally basic ‘walk around and shoot everything with your lame laser weapon and stuff’, voice samples really annoying — I can still remember some of them, and not in a good way! Yeah, this game’s just awful, awful junk. The game was obviously designed for the PS1 first and this PC version is an afterthought, the bad graphics show that pretty clearly, but it’s the core gameplay that is the main reason it’s on my list here. The runners-up, which are only barely worse, include VR Sports Powerboat Racing (I know, some people like this game. I stand by my opinion that is is atrocious.) and Test Drive Off-Road, the worst retail PC game I actually owned in the ’90s. TDOR is another PS1-first game that’s an unfun disaster of zero-fun design.

PC (2001-2009) – For this decade of the PC’s decline and fall, what choice is better than a game based on the Star Wars universe’s decline and fall to the Sith, Star Wars: The Clone Wars — Republic Heroes? This game tries to be kind of like the TT Games Lego games, except without the Lego license. The results sadly is a significantly worse game than those decent-but-unspectacular beat ’em up-styled games. And yes, I’m sorry, but I’m not a big fan of the TT Lego games. They’re okay I guess but I have never found them very interesting. Anyway, this one’s worse. Republic Heroes is a boring, by-the-numbers beat ’em up-ish action game. You play as several of the characters from the show, including Anakin and Ahsoka, and walk along defeating enemies and sometimes jumping between platforms. That sounds fine, but I thought the game was about the most boring one of these I’ve played in decades, which is the main reason I am mentioning it here. Additionally, this game does NOT have drop-in or drop-out multiplayer, and you can’t choose your character either. Instead, at the start player 1 is Anakin and player 2 is Ahsoka. Want to have things the other way around, or play as one player as someone else? Sorry, you can’t. It’s pretty lame. This game is awful and one of the worst retail PC games I’ve played.

PC (2010-2020) – For physical games, the lowest score I see on my list is a game I gave a solid above average score to, TES V: Skyrim. I just don’t have many physical PC games from after the ’00s, they died out sadly quickly in favor of digital. Bethesda games aren’t my thing but they’re fine, Skyrim included. For digital games, though, I’ve got plenty of actual bad game options. The worst on my list is one that a lot of people love but I absolutely hated, as I said in my summary about the game on the site: Terraria. Why do people love this, again? It’s the worst of Minecraft and side-scrolling platformers smushed into one. I have absolutely no interest in Minecraft since I hate crafting and don’t like its visual look or aimless, objective-free design, and this game is very much that but maybe even worse, with boring generic sprite graphics and absolutely nothing to make me interested in playing it at all ever. I find this honestly one of the worst I’ve ever played. It well deserves its place on this list.

PC (2021-present) – Honestly, I don’t have enough PC games released in 2021 or later to be able to say anything here. Looking at my list… uh, sorry, I haven’t played enough recent PC games to say much. And when I do play PC games it’s mostly good ones.  The few 2021-or-newer PC games on my list have high scores.

Philips CD-i, CDI – The worst CD-i game I’ve played is simple: Dark Castle. Yes, it’s every bit as unplayably awful as you probably have heard. This games’ controls make some shreds of sense on a computer with keyboard and mouse, which it was originally designed for, but on a console where you either use a d-pad, mouse (but NOT keyboard), or awful remote wand thing, it doesn’t work at all. You need to somehow move and aim your arm at the same time, and you really can’t without multiple sticks or keyboard and mouse, and this console doesn’t have that. The game was not adjusted much to account for this and the result is that an already not very good computer game became one of the most infamously terrible console games of its era for both Genesis and CD-i. Just try to control this game… it won’t go well. The graphics are somewhat bland and gameplay not all that great as you slowly move around the screen and try and try to not die quite as quickly this time, but it’s those controls that really make this game terrible.

PlayStation 2, PS2 – If we’re going purely by personal bias and not by actual game quality, my pick here is Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows. This game is an F-tier game, but it’s certainly not the worst game ever objectively; it’s just yet another bland, easy, and mediocre God of War knockoff. I mostly hate this game for being a Gauntlet game, a game in one of my favorite classic franchises, that plays so little like Gauntlet and instead takes its main inspiration from a game I strongly dislike, God of War. Ugh. It’s the wrost for being a boringly easy and bland game that plays nothing like how it should: Gauntlet.

But if you ignore that because it’s not actually the worst, then my pick is Space Channel 5: Special Edition. I know, this is another popular game, but I’m sorry, I found it completely impossible. In this music game you somehow need to know which button to push at which time even though the game doesn’t tell you what to actually do. It makes absolutely no sense and while people have attempted to explain this game to me before, I’m sorry but it’s one of the worst I’ve ever played. Shouldn’t the bare minimum for a music game be, like, TELLING YOU WHAT TO PRESS AND WHEN? This game doesn’t do that, then punishes you for failing to have correctly guessed what buttons it didn’t tell you when to press. It’s just absurd design. No.

If you want something else, that most people would agree is bad, the next worst PS2 game I have is Legion: The Legend of Excalibur. I really don’t remember much about this game other than it’s yet another generic, forgettable third person action/beat ’em up game, but worse than almost all of them. Todd McFarlane’s Evil Prophecy is a similarly awful beat ’em up for PS2 as well.

PlayStation 3, PS3 – For PS3, the worst game I’ve played is Twisted Metal (2012). The gameplay is mediocre and forgettably average-at-best car combat — I have never enjoyed playing Twisted Metal games at all and this one did not change my mind about that at all, I’ve always thought they are poor to bad — but the main reason it’s on this list is for the game’s theming. This game is exceptionally obnoxiously hateful. The main character, the iconic clown guy face of the franchise, is an evil clown who is a serial killer. Does he suffer for his crimes? No, of course not. The other characters are no better. Twisted Metal is all about being edgy and blowing through the borders of good taste, and while I’m okay with dark themes where they are appropriate, how is a mediocre car combat game an acceptable place to have such excessively over-the-top hateful themes? It’s not okay. I don’t want to actually act out, as the protagonist, that kind of story. I will never play this game again.

PlayStation 4, PS4 – Of the relatively few PS4 games I’ve played, the worst probably is the below average digital-only title The Five Covens. It’s a not very good 3d platformer with some fun wizard theming but bad controls and subpar gameplay and stages. Skip it. For disc games I haven’t played many games for the PS4 and haven’t played any bad ones. I’ve got Bloodborne scored lowest of them, but that’s only because I don’t enjoy Dark Souls games much. It’s clearly well made. If I had to play a Playstation Dark Souls game though I’d rather play Demon’s Souls… I do like medieval settings better than pseudo-Victorian ones.

PlayStation Portable, PSP – For the PSP, the lowest-rated games I’ve played are Rush and Generation of Chaos. The former is another one of those “I know it’s not ACTUALLY terrible, I just hate it for being not at all what I wanted from one of my favorite franchises” titles. Rush is a port of LA Rush for PS2/Xbox, a generic and forgettable tuner racing game from the tune racing boom that uses the name of the exceptional San Francisco Rush racing game series, my overall favorite racing game series ever. And then they made THIS, a mediocre tuner game with barely any cool big jumps and average tuner-car driving. It’s boring and below average for sure, but terrible? Probably not, unless you hate it for misusing its license as I do.

As for the other game, Generation of Chaos is the first game of a franchise of confusing and hard to get grips with strategy games from Neverland. That studio made some good games and some bad ones, but after trying to figure out this game I eventually decided that it wasn’t me, it was the game. It plays a bit like the Saturn classic Dragonforce, just worse, as you control units that act as groups of soldiers in little animated battles. This game feels low budget and has a lot of issues, though the confusing design is first among them. The game is very poorly explained and neither the game itself or its manual are of much use. Even if you figure it out, though, I somehow doubt that it’d be worth it. There are probably worse PSP games out there than this one but it’s certainly not a GOOD one.

I have to mention third place; it’s another somewhat popular game I can’t stand, the PS1 “classic” MediEvil. Why PS1 fans tried to convince themselves that this awful game was anything other than terrible I’ve never understood but I do not share that opinion. Gameplay, graphics, controls, design, it’s all bad on either PS1 or PSP.

PlayStation Vita, PSV – Of the PSV games I’ve played, two have failing grades: ModNation Racers: Road Trip and Tearaway. The former is a generic and mediocre racing game held back by issues such as excessively long load times and extremely generic Mario Kart-but-worse gameplay. The latter is the bigger disappointment, as the platformer Tearaway had some hype but I didn’t find it fun at all. This game got good reviews… why? I’m sorry, but it’s awful. It has your usual terrible Media Molecule controls and awful physics that ruin all of their games, but this one is worse than most of their games as it doesn’t even have the “but you can make your own levels!” hook of their other games… skip. Do not buy. I wish Media Molecule understood how to make a platformer that feels good to play control-wise, but they do not. At all.

PlayStation, PSX, PS1 – I’ve got a lot of options for this console, there are quite a few utterly abysmal games for this bad game-laden console. The worst on my list, though, is Largo Winch. It’s one of the least fun stealth games ever made. It’s so bad that it just barely edges out a bunch of other atrocious games, including Die Hard Trilogy (this game is one of the top games on my ‘why do people say this utterly atrocious disaster of a game is decent?’ list), the awful 3d platformer Psybadek with its horrible floaty controls, Robotron X and its far too close in camera to be at all playable, and RushDown, the utterly dull and boring extreme sports racing game that manages to be even worse than one of my most disliked series of that era, the 1/2/3Xtreme trilogy. (Where’s MediEvil? I don’t have the first one for PS1, but even if I did it’s nowhere near as abysmal as these games are. That game gets a higher F score than these by several points.)

Saturn, SS – For the Saturn, the pick is easy: TNN Motorsports Hardcore 4×4. This multiplatform racing game is a mediocre effort on both PS1 and Saturn, but the Saturn version is dramatically worse thanks to one of the least playable framerates I’ve seen in a game this side of a polygonal 3d game on the Super Nintendo. Heh… sorry Race Drivin’ for SNES. This is about as slow as that or worse, and is much less playable. This is another one of those games where I’m confused about how it actually released in this state. I know that with time you can get used to low framerates, but this is SO SO low that I have trouble imagining that anyone actually could enjoy playing this game. Even if you could its ‘drive 4-wheeler trucks down narrow canyons in boring races’ design isn’t any good, but the framerate takes it from merely poor to all-time terrible.

The top honorable mention for me on Saturn is another all-time terrible game, the reviled fighting game Criticom. Criticom’s no match for Shadow: War of Succession for bad fighting games, nothing is, but short of that this game is one of the worst ever. Criticom is a legendarily terrible early 3d fighter with some of the worst design you’ll ever see. The developer would go on to make Dark Rift for N64, another one of my ‘why do people say this terrible game is okay?’ list titles. It’s slightly better than Criticom but not by much.

Sega Genesis, Gen – Mallet Legends Whac-A-Critter is an unlicensed Whack-A-Mole game for hte Genesis. The company actually released a little whack-a-mole controller for the game, which surely makes it a bit less horrendously unplayably terrible, but with controller this game is absolutely dire and I doubt that the special controller helps all that much. You press the d-pad in a direction with the button to hit the nine available spots. That’s fine, but the game is absurdly, brokenly hard far beyond any sanity. This game is unlicensed for very good reasons, did it get any play testing? Even when it’s not hard the concept is so basic that it’s not a very good home console game, but the broken difficulty finishes off any chance of it being decent.

Sega CD – If I had the Sega CD version Supreme Warrior would “win” here, but I only have the 32XCD version of that game so instead Midnight Raiders takes it. It’s a bad ‘move the sight around the screen and shoot the enemies’ FMV game. Memorize when to shoot where or die. Or quit and don’t play games like this, that would be a better idea. There are a lot of really awful FMV games on the Sega CD, including Midnight Raiders, Tomcat Alley, Night Trap (though this is another one I only have the 32XCD version of and not the Sega CD versions), and Double Switch. Yes, I do consider all four of those to be VERY VERY VERY bad games. I’ll say why for Night Trap in the 32X section, but its sequel Double Switch is basically the same thing but with a new setting. It’s just as awful as the first one.

32X (cartridge games) – Cosmic Carnage. This is a decent game which gets a passing grade for sure. It’s below average but is far from terrible, and has some pretty interesting ideas. This is a 2d fighting game and its neat concepts include being able to equip different armor types onto your characters and some cool scaling effects on some of your moves as your limbs spin around in 3d as you swing. It’s a decently amusing time, but the mechanics are poor so here it is on this list, undeservedly. The actual worst 32X games are the two FMV games below.

Sega CD 32X – Supreme Warrior easily wins here. This FMV fighting game may have very nice video quality in this 32XCD release, but unfortunately the gameplay is the same. This is a first person FMV fighting game, and you play by memorizing which move to use against each enemy in each specific video clip they play against you. If you don’t know the right move, you get hit. It’s a nearly impossibly hard game unless you spend a LOT of time memorizing video clip inputs, and I can’t possibly imagine that time being worthwhile in any way. This is seriously one of the worst games I’ve ever played.

Night Trap may be a highly memorable “classic”, and again this version has nice video qualiyt, but its core design is about going to empty rooms, memorizing exactly when to be in those rooms, and hitting the correct button at exactly the right time each time in order to defeat the enemies. Meanwhile, on other monitors videos play telling the story, but don’t try to watch them much! You’ll miss the enemies if you do. It makes no sense to make a game like this, and why some people (hopefully ironically?) claim to like it makes even less sense. It’s a really, really, REALLY bad game, one of the worst.

Sega Master System, SMS – This might be a popular pick, but … F-16 Fighting Falcon is definitely not very good. The graphics are basically the visuals of a SG-1000 game, and the gameplay is incredibly dated, and was pretty much from day one given the limited visuals. The actual loser for the SMS though is probably the Sports Pad controller, which is the worst, least responsive trackball that I have ever used.

Super Nintendo, SNES – This may be another controversial pick, but for me the adventure game Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures takes the crown here for worst SNES game I’ve played. In this game you control a cursor as you watch Pac-Man go around the screen and do stuff. You cannot control him, only interact with things on screen to make things happen that hopefully he will react to in the way you need to solve the current puzzle. It’s a concept, but it’s a bad concept because the little guy will rarely do what you want. If you could just control the character this would be a totally okay puzzle adventure game, but having to basically play this second or third person as you try to make him do the things you want without being able to control his actions at all is just so incredibly frustrating and obnoxious that I can’t stand this game at all. It’s awful.

Second place on the SNES is a very forgettably mediocre racing game, Kawasaki Caribbean Challenge. There are two Kawasaki racing games on SNES, and this is the bad one. It’s a bad top-down racer with extremely bland graphics and poor gameplay. I love top-down racing games when they’re good, but this is the opposite of that with boring tracks, graphics so poor you can barely tell this is the Super Nintendo, and gameplay very far from the better games in this subgenre. You’ll play one or two races then turn this game off forever.

TI-83+ Calculator – While the TI-83+ is a great graphing calculator, it’s a terrible games platform. I got one of these in high school for math and liked it for that, but for games? I know a lot of people like TI calculator games, but I never did. I actually got a PC-to-TI cable a few years ago to try more games than the handful I had on my TI-83+ originally — I only had, like, Snake, Drug Wars, and Tetris, I think — but… well, I couldn’t get most of them to work and the few I did were as terrible as expected. Who knew that a screen with an extremely slow refresh rate not designed for moving graphics, on a platform with no sound support, would have utterly unplayably awful action games? Huh, strange… :p

So yeah, I’m sure there are worse, but Flappy Bird for TI-83+ is an unplayable wreck of a game thanks to that refresh rate. How is this actually supposed to be playable? It’s not. I know “games running ON A CALCULATOR and I can play it in school during math class!” was part of the appeal, but… I’d rather have just paid attention in class and went to play some Game Boy later, you know? On that note it’s not like Tetris for TI83+ is very good either, it isn’t. The GB version is like a thousand times more playable.

TI-99/4A – This classic computer is one I like, for some reason. The lowest score I have for a game is Blackjack & Poker, a completely acceptable single player only card game collection. It scores low because I have zero interest in poker and this is a very bland old blackjack game which does nothing that a thousand newer blackjack games don’t do better, so there is no reason to ever play it. For other genres, probably the weakest is The Attack. It’s not an utterly awful game, but it is below average and boring. Of the TI99/4A overhead ship shooting games, and the system has a good number of them, this one is easily the worst — it’s got awful, ear-piercing audio and very slow and boring gameplay with minimal challenge. You just wait for the enemies to spawn from blocks, wait some more, wait a little longer, and then easily shoot them once they finally appear. Zzzz.

TurboGrafx-16, TG16 – Battle Royale wins it here. This game is a pretty bad wrestling game with weird controls and only one mode. You pick a wrestler, go into the match, and try to throw the other people out of the ring. The throw input’s awkwardly weird, read that manual if you want to get anywhere. This game has 4 player multiplayer, but after a match or two most people will never want to play this extremely slight, forgettable game again. There’s zero depth and even less gameplay of any note.

Next worst is another early TG16 game, Takin’ It To the Hoop. This basketball game is confusing, and honestly I never figured out how to play it well. This game tries to be somewhat realistic so it’s 5-on-5, but they really hadn’t figured out yet how to make basketball games fun, and this one sure isn’t. It also isn’t simple or intuitive, and learning how to defend, shoot, etc. is much harder than it should be. I don’t think this game is worth learning how to play. NBA Jam is the great classic basketball game, not this. This is also a lot worse than other simmish basketball games like Double Dribble (NES), as well, with more confusing and slower gameplay.

Turbo CD, TCD – For Turbo CD, the lowest score I have is for Bikkuriman Daijikai. This is barely a game, though — it’s a trivia game based on the Bikkuriman anime/manga franchise, in Japanese. I’m sure people who like that anime and can read Japanese might like this trivia game but I am neither of those things. Otherwise, Sailor Moon Collection is also almost equally awful. It’s a minigame collection with a handful of bad, extremely basic little minigames. There are a bunch of good Sailor Moon games out there, including beat ’em ups and an RPG for the SNES, but this one is one of the worst, unfortunately; this is basically one of those extremely basic minigame collections aimed at a young audience, and it won’t interest anyone else.

Virtual Boy, VB – While there are a few bad VB games, I do not own them. The “worst”, I guess, is Virtual Fishing, purely because I have absolutely no interest in fishing games. It seems like a very solid classic fishing game, but the subject matter’s a massive negative for me so here it is.

Wii – I have to mention Metroid Other M here for what its story does to Samus’s character. It’s a well deserved worst for that alone. Next worst is Billy the Wizard: Rocket Broomstick Racing, a PS2-port racing game with the worst motion controls I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing. I like good motion controls, and a lot of Wii games have good motion controls and benefit from them. This games’ are the exact opposite of that. It’s one of the most unplayable games I’ve ever played, and no, there isn’t a stick-based option; the controls are motion-only and are basically broken. Even beyond that this game is exceptionally low budget with really bad graphics and very basic environments, but it’s the controls that are the worst and most memorable thing about this game. Play it if you want to dislike motion controls even though when done well they’re great.

A few other games near the bottom of my list for Wii are Soulcalibur Legends (a sadly boring and bad beat ’em up in the Soul Calibur franchise with very few playable characters) and another music game some people love but I absolutely hate, Rhythm Heaven Fever. That’s another game I can’t play at all, I don’t think I have ever beaten a stage of that awful game. If you like it that’s nice for you. I do not and think of it as one of the worst I’ve played.

Wii U – This is another controversial one, but for me it’s no contest: the worst Wii U game I’ve played is easily Tekken Tag Tournament 2. I have always hated Tekken games, I think most of them are absolutely terrible to play with controls I strongly dislike, and this one is no exception. The PS1 games are probably the least bad Tekken games, but everything after that is just awful with few redeeming qualities. I’m sure many people like this series’ ‘each button is a limb’ control system, but I hate it. I got this game despite knowing I might dislike it because it was neat to see a Tekken game actually release on a Nintendo console, but unfortunately it did not change my mind one bit about this franchise. Quite the opposite, I think I might have hated this game even more than the other Tekken games… though I don’t know, I found all of them from 4 on quite awful. This is a game on my worst fighting games I’ve played list. (Tekkens 4, 5, and 6 are also F-grade games for me, but slightly less bad than this one. I haven’t played 7 or 8.)

Xbox – The worst Xbox game? It’s probably Kabuki Warriors, another game on the ‘awful fighting games’ list. Kabuki Warriors tries to be a cool MK-ish fighter, but it doesn’t work, at all. It’s a painfully bad game to play. Second worst is the racing game Pulse Racer. This game has a potentially interesting mechanic where there is a pulse meter, and if it goes too high your character will black out. Unfortunately, while a neat concept it doesn’t work well at all in practice. The tracks and gameplay aren’t very interesting either, dragging this game down into this very low F tier, but the pulse meter is the main thing here and it it’s like… “have too much fun and you’ll lose!”. Why would I want that?

Xbox 360, X360 – It’s easy, the worst X360 game I have is again Tekken Tag Tournament 2, followed by Terraria. I’ve mentioned those already for other platforms, though. The worst exclusive is probably Bomberman: Act Zero. The core gameplay is fine, but the aesthetic is just so comically wrong for Bomberman that it almost ruins the game. That isn’t the worst thing here, though, the game design is: you basically get only one life. Die and you start the game over. It’s ludicrously unfun nonsense. Play any other Bomberman game instead of this.

Xbox One, XONE – While I have played a fair number of games for this system, I haven’t played any really bad X1 games. There’s nothing I’ve played for X1 I’d give a failing grade to. The lowest scores I have are some slightly below average scores, for Sea of Thieves (I just don’t find it fun, it’s too aimless) and Killer Instinct [2014] (I’m awful at long combos and just cannot memorize them, which is why I’ve never liked KI games. This one sadly is no exception. It’s not the game, it’s me… but I definitely don’t like it.)

Xbox Series X, XSX – The worst game I’ve played for this system has to be Gears 5. Gears 5 isn’t terrible, but it is a bad game for sure in a bad franchise. I remember not liking the first Gears of War game at all, but hadn’t played any after that until this one. I was somewhat shocked at how similar Gears 5 is to the first one; it feels basically like the first one with only minimal changes other than better graphics and a few more moves and such. Hide behind waist-high walls, shoot, repeat. Fall asleep from boredom because of how dull this game is. So yeah, I still don’t find it fun at all, this is just as bad as the first Gears with minimal changes. I had to quit after an hour or two because of how tediously dull and unfun this game is. It’s clearly well made, but how much does that matter when a game is this disappointing? This game isn’t an F-tier game, but it is well below average. Given how successful this franchise is, obviously my tastes in games do not align well with what’s popular, heh…

Posted in 32X, 3DO, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Atari Jaguar, Classic Games, Colecovision, Dreamcast, Game & Watch, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Color, Game Gear, Gamecube, Genesis, Intellivision, Lists, Modern Games, NES, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo 64, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nokia N-Gage, Odyssey 2, PC, PC, Philips CD-i, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Playstation Portable, PS Vita, Saturn, Sega CD, Sega Master System, SNES, TI 99/4A, Turbo CD, TurboGrafx-16, Virtual Boy, Wii U, Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | Tagged , | Leave a comment

2023 Game of the Year

What I Have Been Playing This Year

I’ve been sick this week, and while I’m getting better I’m not quite fully recovered yet so this will be shorter than it otherwise probably would be. This year, I bought as many games as ever, but did I play them? No, I often didn’t. I’ve spent far too much time this year just watching Youtube and such and not playing anything.

And when I do play games, it’s mostly the same things. For example, my most played game this year is, surprise surprise, Super Mario Maker 2. According to my Switch I’ve played something closing in on 300 hours of that game this year. That number may be a bit high but it should be close. Second place on my list, for playtime, according to the ‘what did you play this year?’ pages that Sony, MS, Nintendo, and Steam put up, is Diablo IV. It says that I played 200 hours of that game on Xbox, which definitely seems too high; I know I’ve left my Xbox on more than a few times while actually watching Youtube, that’s going to add to the time. However, I certainly did play a lot of Diablo IV. I wrote that two-part review for a reason, I finished the game and kept playing it some after that.

After those two, though, there’s a big dropoff from second to third; my next couple of most played games are in in 50-something-hour range, namely F-Zero 99 for Switch next and then Dead or Alive 6 for Xbox. The first of those games I love, the second … not so much, I just play it sometimes anyway.

The other games that would be in this category if they were on those listing sites are Nintendo 3DS games — I played many hours of 3DS puzzle games. Specifically, digital ones. Most nights I play a few minutes of 3DS puzzle games before bed. I’ve finished a lot of the 3DS Picross games now, I only have a few left. Other digital 3DS puzzle games I played a lot of include Wordherd, Block-a-Pix Color, Link-a-Pix Color, Sudoku Party, and 505 Tangram for DSiWare on 3DS. I’ve also played a bit of Angry Birds Trilogy on 3DS cart. I’ve finished all the puzzles in Link-A-Pix Color and Wordherd, and am close to finishing Block-a-Pix Color. I’ve come to love puzzle games in a way that I didn’t when I was younger, and the 3DS is the best portable format ever for them thanks to the stylus. It’ll be pretty sad once I run out… the 3DS is still amazing and has yet again been one of my most-used devices this year.

What PS4 games did I play this year? Well, my Sony year in reviewsite said that I played 12 hours total of PS4 games this year, so the answer is unsurprising, not many. The most played of the bunch is the Star Ocean: 2nd Story Remaster.

As for retro games, I haven’t been playing them as much as I should, but the one system that I have been returning to is one that’s on a lot of people my age or older’s thoughts these days, the NES. I’ve returned to it after many years of mostly ignoring the system for probably the same reasons as others. I mean, even though I didn’t own a NES as a kid, I played it a lot, it basically was console gaming in my childhood. How well does it hold up? I know that there are some things about the NES that I don’t like very much, most notably overly inscrutably confusing and “just wander around and figure it out” game design. However, there are also a lot of games that are still good. I turn my NES on and play something or other on it on a regular basis. I got a Famicom Disk System for my NES last year and a while ago finally got an accessory to allow for expansion audio to work without needing the internal mod, so I try out FDS games sometimes as well. All I don’t have is a way to play Famicom 3D System games, I’ll probably need to give up on the dream of an adapter to make those glasses work on a regular NES, since to use them on a NES you would need to make a homebrew cable that connects to certain pins on the bottom port, and just buy a Famicom at some point. Oh well.

With that said, here are my top lists for the year.

The Best New 2023 Releases

1. F-Zero 99 (Switch)
2. Akka Arrh (played on XSX)
3. Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Switch)
4. Diablo IV (played on XSX)
5. Caverns of Mars Recharged (played on XSX)

My Favorite Older Games that I First Played in 2023

This won’t be the interesting list that it often has been in the past; while I bought a lot of retro games this year, again, I never actually got around to trying most of them. So… uh, I guess this handful of 3DS eshop games will have to do, and maybe a couple of other games.

505 Tangram (DSiWare)
Art Style: DIGIDRIVE (DSiWare)
Gotta Protectors (3D eshop)
Mighty Flip Champs! and Mighty Milky Way (DSiWare)
Bookworm (Nintendo DS version)

The Best Remasters of the Year

There were some fantastic remasters this year.  These are the best among them.

  1. Metroid Prime Remastered (Nintendo Switch)
  2. Towers II: Enhanced Stargazer Edition (Atari Jaguar remaster of an Atari Jaguar game)
  3. Star Ocean: The Second Story R (played on PS4)
  4. Quake II [Remastered] (played on XSX)

Overall Game of the Year

1. Super Mario Maker 2 (Nintendo Switch) – For me, is this the unsurprising pick of the century? Perhaps. But I really do deeply, deeply love this game, it’s the most perfect game concept ever. The execution needs work, and I hope it gets that work in a third Mario Maker release someday. Even as it is, though, with its issues and its declining userbase, SMM2 is incredible. I’m still loving this game as much as ever, and continue making levels for it. I made a new stage this month that is probably one of my better ones.

[It is not new, but perhaps here I should mention that I finished Super Mario Bros. for the NES on real hardware for the first time this year. I’d beaten the easier GBC version back in ’00, but the NES version had always eluded me because of how hard getting through world 8 is. Well, decided that I can do it, and put in the effort. Eventually I won and it feels very good. The game is certainly one of the best ever.]

2. F-Zero 99 (Nintendo Switch) – The surprise of the year by far, Nintendo’s shocking announcement and immediate release of this new, SNES-style online-only F-Zero game was some of the best news I’ve had from gaming in a long time! I really, really love the classic F-Zero games — the first two are nearly perfect 10/10 classics in my book, and are both among the best racing games ever. Due to its online nature requring a large player base to be at its most fun, which you can never count on, I don’t think that this game quite matches either of the originals in overall greatness. Even so, F-Zero 99 is a truly exceptional game. It’s easily my favorite new release of 2023! I’m amazed and thrilled that this game was released.

3. Akka Arrh (played on Xbox Series X) – Legendary developer Jeff Minter’s latest release is this game.  This is a title that’s a modern re-imagining of a cancelled Atari game from the early ’80s.  Or rather, this is a game loosely based on that title, but if you look at the original prototype and this game you’ll see how different the two are.  The core concept of both is that you are defending a turret from enemies attacking you from all around, and that, like in Tempest, each stage has a new shape.  Also, in both games if certain enemies get past your defenses they attack the tower from below, and you have to zoom in and fight them off there.  However, Minter’s take changes the fairly simple ‘shoot the zone to kill the baddies’ gameplay of the original for something much more like the brilliant ’00s arcade-style game Every Extend.  Somewhat like in that game, you shoot bombs that create spreading explosions within the zone you shot at.  Each enemy destroyed by a bomb creates its own chain explosion, and your chain bonus counter resets if you shoot another bomb.  You also have bullets, with limited ammo that replenishes with enemy kills, and bullets don’t reset your chain.

Because of instant-death enemies that rapidly zoom at you and everything going on on screen with the numerous game mechanics Akka Arrh is probably one of Minter’s harder games and the skill ceiling is high, but it’s a brilliant concept done well.  Expect to be very frustrated but also addicted.   I find that I often find it hard to tell when I’m about to die and when I can take a hit, but otherwise I absolutely love this game!  Akka Arrh has beautiful classic arcade-inspired visuals, that classic Jeff Minter flare, compelling gameplay, and great design.  Nobody does classic arcade gameplay plus synthesesia better than Jeff Minter.  Perhaps this is unsurprising considering that he’s been a game developer since about 1980,  working in the same genre the whole time, but it’s true.  Akka Arrh is incredible, play it immediately if you haven’t.

4. Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Nintendo Switch) – I wrote a review of this game last month as well, so I don’t think I need to repeat myself. Mario Wonder’s a mostly easy but otherwise great game that any Mario fan should consider a must-play.

5. Diablo IV (played on Xbox Series X) – When I think of my XSX, which by the way I got via mail order on its day of release since I was so fortunate as to get a preorder in from Microsoft.com that one day that they were available, I think of a system with a fantastic controller and amazing graphical capabilities, but few games that really compel me to play them in the way that Nintendo games do. The Switch is junior-grade compared to the Series in controller build quality and graphics, but in gameplay Nintendo, for me, are the unquesitoned masters of console game design. With that said, though, Diablo IV is a fantastic game. I didn’t play it that maybe as much as 200 hour playtime I mentioned earlier for no reason, I played it because of how good this game is. Diablo IV has some major issues with its story, its overlong boss fights, and some of the seasonal content, and more. The core gameplay is fantastic, though. The controls, action, skill systems, and more are compelling and very well designed.

6. Nintendo 3DS puzzle games, and, since I finished it and really liked the concept, perhaps Link-A-Pix Color in particular. There is a game on 3DS with the same concept as this title, but without capacative touch it’d surely be much worse…

Honorable Mention: This year’s outstanding remasters of Metroid Prime and Star Ocean: The Second Story are absolutely top-tier.  Metroid Prime is one of the best games ever made and this remake is extremely impressive.

Posted in Articles, Classic Games, Lists, Modern Games, NES, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Super Mario Bros. Wonder – An Outstanding Platforming Great, With A Few Issues

Yes, it’s a review of a pretty new game.  Enjoy!

Title: Super Mario Bros. Wonder
Release Date: October 20, 2023
Developer and Publisher: Nintendo

Introduction

Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the latest game in the Mario series from Nintendo.  This game is a 2.5d platformer, somewhat like the New Super Mario Bros. games of past years but better.  It released on October 20, 2023 and I bought it on release day and finished it last week.  I have now beaten every level in the game, though I haven’t 100%ed the game yet; there are some collectible and such I didn’t get.  I’ve played about 20 hours according to my Switch, but my actual play time is probably a bit below that because of some time the system was on but I was doing something else.  I might go back to get more of the stuff in the game.  This game has been getting some pretty high acclaim, and after playing it I can see why, it’s quite good.  It isn’t flawless, though.  In short, SMBW is a great game and is the best non-Mario Maker 2d or 2.5d Mario platformer in 30 years, but it does have its share of flaws.  The main flaws are low difficulty and lacking boss fights.

There is a lot more good than bad about this game, though.  The best thing about Mario Wonder is that it is wildly creative in its level themes and visual design.  The mostly younger team leading the creation of this game were given free reign to come up with new ideas for Mario enemies and stage ideas, and they ran with it and thought up a lot of very clever ones.  I’d love to go in detail about some of the better and more interesting stage concepts and will later in a spoiler section, but I will not detail that here because anyone who hasn’t played the game should not read it because it’s best by far to go into this game not knowing what to expect, it will be a lot more fun that way.  Know that this game has a whole lot of new enemies and new stage ideas that have not been seen in Mario games before, along with other returning ones, and most of the content here is good to great.  Playing the levels, exploring them, experiencing each level’s Wonder flower effect and section, finding the secrets, and experiencing the interesting platforming sections within is the best thing about this game and I very highly recommend it for that.  Wonder is a great platformer with a lot of great ideas.

In terms of challenge, Mario Wonder was designed to be accessible to all.  Nintendo clearly aimed for a lower difficultly level in order to have anyone be able to play and enjoy this game, and they achieved that goal.  Most stages are moderate in difficulty at most, so anyone experienced at platform games should get through the game fairly easily.  Even the hardest levels are easier than those hard levels that occasionally randomly show up in endless Normal in Mario Maker 2.  And while most levels are far better designed than most Mario Maker levels, there are a few I will mention later that I greatly dislike.  Even so, the brilliantly original stages are this games’ great strength.  All gamers who enjoy platforming at all will surely love many of the stages here, from running on flying bulls to dodging enemies that expand in height when you stand up but shrink down when you crouch and so, so much more.  Super Mario Bros. Wonder is, well, wonderful most of the time.

The Main Game Structure

The core structure of the game is familiar, with worlds made up of levels.  There are two kinds of levels, smaller ones and full levels.  Smaller stages have only a single flower coin to collect, which you get by completing some challenge.   Main levels, however, have not only a main exit with one Wonder Flower, a Wonder Flower somewhere in the middle with its own special section using some kind of usually interesting stage concept, and in a few cases a second hidden exit with its own Wonder Flower. The game also notes if you completed a stage by landing on the top of the flagpole — and note you cannot go over the top, anything above the top stops you there and drops you on the top, if you completed it with the three badges that make levels harder, and if you got the three hidden giant coins that every level has, in that New Super Mario Bros. style.  The game does NOT have any kind of timer and does not keep track of your time in the levels.  It would be nice if it did that in order to increase the games’ replay value, but it doesn’t.  It does have two currencies though, with regular coins giving you a life for every 100 as usual and purple coins and coin tenths being used in the shops that scatter the overworld.  When in the overworld the R and L buttons bring up a map and a stage list, respectively, to help you quickly go to any stage or view the world design.

Graphics, Sound, Controls and Characters

When it comes to platforming games, the most important elements are the controls, the smoothness of play, and the level designs.  Super Mario Bros. Wonder does all three elements extremely well.  I will start with the technical element.  The game runs at a smooth and stable 60 frames per second, at the Switch’s maximum resolution of 1080p, or 720p for handheld mode.  This game looks about as good as a Switch game can, and runs extremely well.  On the audio side SMBW is fine, but I don’t think any of its music is particularly memorable.  I beat the game fairly recently and can’t remember any SMBW songs offhand.  It’s all decently good stuff which fits the game well, though.

The controls are pretty much flawless, too.  As in a 2d Mario game this game has digital controls, so you either are moving or stopped, with buttons for run, jump, twirl, and ‘use stored powerup’.  The physics are fantastic, and feel very similar to the NSMB and Mario Maker games.  If you are used to those physics you’ll be able to pick this game up instantly, it tweaks a few things but is very familiar.  The controls in Mario platformers are always great and this game is no exception, Mario is the standard bearer of the platforming genre not only because the early Donkey Kong and Mario games created the platformer as we know it but because the series has kept at the top of the genre in controls and responsiveness.

One of the better things about this game is that it has a lot of playable characters.  Instead of playinga s only Mario, or as Mario or Luigi, in this game you can play as Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, blue or yellow Toads, Toadette, and four easy mode characters who cannot take damage or pick up powerups in red, blue, or yellow Yoshis and Nabbit.  Yes, Daisy is playable here for the first time in a Mario platformer.  That’s really great, I love it.  Somebody who worked on this game clearly loved the Mario Land games, because there are more references to those games in this title than this.  Some stages and enemies (of sorts) are clear Mario Land 1 and 2 references as well.  It’s great stuff.

Here I must mention though, probably the most controversial thing about SMB Wonder is that longtime Mario voice actor Charles Martinet, who had voiced Mario, Luigi, Wario, Waluigi, and others for over 30 years, was fired or forced to retire this year, and new voice actors voice all of the characters in this game.  The new actors are fine, and I am not one to almost ever care much at all about who voices videogame characters, but getting rid of Martinet in the way they did seemed somewhat disrespectful, and disappointing beacuse the new voices are a small downgrade from his.  Oh well.

Anyway, the way they include so many characters in the game is because all characters control identically.  Yes, the character-specific jumping styles of past games like Mario 2 (USA) are not character-specific anymore.  This was the right decision for sure because it finally allows them to put playable Peach in mainline Mario games, something they had not done in the NSMB or Mario Maker games in part because they knew people would expect her floating jump and they didn’t want to have that in the game.  I love that they finally decided to figure out a way to get more playable characters into Mario.

The Badge System

Because you see, moves like Peach’s floating jump or Luigi’s higher jump are not gone, they are just made optional.  Instead of having each one tied to a character, this game has a Badge system.  Badges are items you unlock from special stages in the game.  Badges do various things, including giving you those various alternate jumps that make the game easier, making you run fast, making all powerups give you some powerup you like, or making the game harder in several ways.  You can equip one at a time and can choose which badge you have equipped in a menu before entering a stage.  The badge system adds a highly customizable level of difficulty to this game.  Most of the stages are easy to moderate, but children or people inexperienced at platforming or just anyone who wants an easier time can use badges that make things simpler to various degrees.  Or you could use one primarily not because it makes the game easier, but because you like that form of jumping.  Or you could make it harder with the three hard mode badges.  Can you beat the levels… while invisible so you can’t see yourself?  It’s an option.  The badge system is absolutely fantastic and is one of the best new features of this game.

Now, I do need to say, despite my complaining about this game being too easy most of the time, I admit I did use a pretty good badge: the one that gives you a double jump at any point in your jump.  Once I unlocked that I stuck with it almost all of the time.  The enhanced traversal this badge gives you makes some challenges much easier, but once I was used to having it I didn’t want to go back to the default, even if it made the game easier.  So yeah, is complaining that the game is too easy while using a badge that gives you a double jump somewhat hypocritical?  Perhaps, but it’s my position anyway.

I think that this is a defensible position because even though that badge certainly saved me from deaths, not having it wouldn’t make the game THAT much harder.  It just reduced the frustration of having to retry sections more.  Apart from the lost progress dying doesn’t mean much in this game, you can get extra lives so quickly that I never got even remotely close to running out of lives.  Even had I never chosen a jump-enhancing badge, I’d never have gotten a Game Over in SMBW, of that I am sure.  The core challenge of this game is what it is.  The badges modify that in a really interesting and well-thought-through way, though, to make it easier or harder depending on what you want.  And they bring in the variety of character jumping types that SMB2 (USA) and such had, without forcing you to use just that one character to play that way…

… Unless you play as the Yoshis or Nabbit, who are locked into not being able to take damage or die any way other than falling into a pit, and in not being able to pick up powerups.  Why wasn’t this an option or special badge?  I’d like to be able to play as Yoshi without it removing almost all challenge from the game, but you can’t.  This is not one of SMBW’s bigger flaws, but this is an issue others have mentioned and that I entirely agree with.

The Powerups

A major part of each Mario game is its powerups, from the original Super Mario and Fire Flower and beyond.  Super Mario Bros. Wonder has five powerups, two classic and three new.  The Super Mushroom to turn big and the Fire Flower to be able to shoot fire return, of course.  The three new ones are Elephant form, which turns you into an elephant-person about double or more the size of a regular super Mario and which can pick up and toss water or break blocks in front of you with your trunk; Bubble form, which allows you to shoot bubbles forward that you can jump off of and that also trap enemies in them if they touch them, defeating those foes in a hit; and Drill form, that Japanese gaming staple for whatever reason, which allows you to drill into the ground and move along straight paths hidden out of sight on the floor or ceiling, and damage enemies that you jump up into with the drill on your head.

The three new powers are all great and useful throughout the game, I like all of them quite a bit.  I’ve seen some criticism of the Bubble form, but I think it’s quite useful really, those bubbles float on the screen for a while so it is often a better option for defeating enemies than the Fire Flower.  My only possible complaint about the powerups in this game is that enemies never use their own versions of any of these powers.  You won’t be fighting elephant enemies or anything, and there’s nothing like the final boss of Mario Land 2 where Wario fights you with each of that games’ powerups.  That is a minor issue, though.  Nintendo did a good job with coming up with powerup options in this game that are new and interesting, and that add new forms of movement without just involving flight or something like a lot of the powerups of the late ’80s to early ’90s, since the Badge system does so much to modify traversal.

The Story

Skip this section if you want no spoilers.

Once you begin, the simple little intro cutscene plays.  Our heroes from the Mushroom Kingdom are visiting another land, the Flower Kingdom, but just as they arrive Bowser and Bowser Jr., along with Kamek, show up, and using the power of the Wonder Flowers that are all over this kingdom, merged himself with their castle.  Your goal is to free the castle from being merged with Bowser.  He also stole all the special flower coin things and locked them up across the kingdom, conveniently in or at the ends of the stages you’re about to visit.  And he let Bowser Jr. loose to mess with the people of the land and cause chaos, which the kid will do in several of the areas you will visit.

Beyond this, though, Bowser doesn’t really do much in this game.  Bowser Jr. is wandering around, and you save a flower person from captivity at the end of each stage, but Castle Bowser himself is just sitting there doing nothing.  For the most part I rarely felt like Bowser was actually threatening much of anything here.  Bowser is a bad guy in Mario Wonder, but he’s less bad than usual, I thought. I mean, come on, he just wanted to be a music star, and you ruined the party!  And he got tired of Bowser Jr.’s nonsense too, as shown in an amusing way near the end of the game.

I’m not calling for ‘bring back the kidnapped princess plot’, of course; quite the opposite, I’m thrilled that it’s finally gone!  However, I felt kind of bad for Bowser at the end of this game.  He can’t be allowed to kidnap castles, but perhaps a bit more of him doing something more would have been good.  Essentially, Bowser sounds like he wants to be a music star and put on a show, or something like that.  Sure, he does mix in some with vaguely threatening ‘you’ll all be forced to attend’ comments which are not good, and of course he kidnapped their castle, but still I felt like it wasn’t enough to convince me that he was as much of an immediate threat as the game wants you to think. It’s fine though, this is a Mario game so it’s not like story is important.  Quite the opposite, the story is just an excuse to play the stages, and it does a perfectly acceptable job of that.

Overworld Design

As I said previously, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a game I think players should experience without spoiling its level concepts and ideas for themselves.  The stages are the best thing about this game and a lot of them are fantastic.  So, this section will stick to just talking about the structure of the game, for the most part.

I discussed the core structure near the beginning, but to go into more detail, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is broken up into eight worlds. There is an initial numbered stage, a hub world with its own levels, five more numbered stages, a final Bowser section with a few levels and the boss that I guess could be considered the end of the hub world, and a bonus world of hidden levels unlocked by getting all wonder flowers in the regular stages.  Yes, unlike Super Mario 3D World, Bowser doesn’t have a full world to his own this time, only three stages then the final battle.  Oh well.  World have varying numbers of levels, with some being longer than others.  The game has an interesting mixed structure where sometimes you move along paths from stage to stage, while other times you move freely around open areas. It’s a good mix.  There are secrets to find in the overworld, as well, which is pretty nice.

However, some of the worlds in the game definitely feel too short, while others are full-length.  It’s odd and uneven in this regard.  The visuals are beautiful and varied in the overworlds and levels alike, but there should have been a little bit more here, to flesh out the lacking worlds up to the standard of the better ones.  Why are some worlds literally twice the length of others?  The levels in this game are fantastic and maybe they couldn’t come up with any more ideas, but if so then stage locations should have been moved around or something to make each world about the same length.  A few more stages, either main or side, would be ideal though.

On Hidden Things

There is one trend in SMBW stage design that I hate and must mention: hidden blocks.  This game has hidden blocks that have items in them scattered around in usually out of the way places in the sky, each only visible to a certain character.  This is pretty annoying design I dislike.  The idea was probably to reward those playing in multiplayer, but the result is to obnoxiously hide items for no reason.

That’s not the worst thing, though, the worst are the Search Party levels.  These side levels have a smallish several screen area with hidden blocks and paths all over that you must find, because you need to find five 10-coins and they are hidden.  Again some blocks will appear depending on your character choice, but if you’re playing solo having to come back wtih all of the characters is obviously not feasible, so you’ve basically just got to randomly jump everywhere, push against pipes because this game amusingly lets you move them sometimes, try everything you can think of, or give up and look up the locations in a guide online.  And that is what I did, I looked up guides for several of these utterly abysmal disasters of stages.

Yes, the Search Party levels are, in my opinion, the absolute worst levels ever to appear in any Mario game with levels made by Nintendo.  They should not hae been included, what is this, Mario Maker?  I mean, I love Mario Maker a lot, but mandatory hidden blocks are one of the absolute worst things about that game, and having them infect mainline Mario game like this is incredibly disappointing and should never, EVER have happened.  Most of the levels in this game are good to great, with clever layouts, unique obstacles, secrets hidden in various clever ways, interesting Wonder effect sections that start off probably too short but get longer and more satisfyingly involved the farther you get into the game, and so much more, but the Search Party levels are irredeemable trash.

More positively though, much like in Super Mario World and Super Mario Land 2, Mario Wonder has alternate secret exits to find in some levels.  I really like their inclusion, though I think the game should definitely have had more of them, there are unfortunately few to find.  The ones that there are are great, though. You can guess at which levels have secret exits by which worlds seem to have areas that you haven’t gotten to yet, I didn’t need to look up a guide to know which stages to search for secrets.  What great world design!  Perhaps the most interesting possible Mario Land reference in this game is that six levels in SMBW have hidden exits.  That’s the exact same number of secret exits as, yes, Super Mario Land 2.  I doubt this was a coincidence…

The Wonder Effects

As I said, every main level in this game has a Wonder Flower hidden somewhere in the middle-ish of the stage.  Once you find and touch this flower you are sent into a weird and wild stage section of some kind.  Once you complete the section you get one of the stages’ two or three reward items, depending on if it’s one of the stages with a secret exit or not.  These start out short and simple, too short.  Most Wonder sections in the first world are so simple, basic, and short that I was kind of disappointed.  I’m sorry, but the section with the dancing Piranha Plants did little for me, there was virtually no interesting gameplay to be found in that Wonder section and wanting to experience the usually great gameplay is why I’m here playing this game.

That disappointment turned around later on, however, as Wonder sections got longer and more involved.  Some take up entire stages of challenging platforming!  The Wonder effects are not all original, as you will see some repeated more than a few times, but each time they mix things up with new ideas in the Wonder section, so I almost never felt like I was wishing for another totally new Wonder concept instead of an old idea returning but with more to it this time.  The first of the ‘you move around the background as if it’s and overhead game instead of a side view platformer’ section was really short and kind of lame, but the last one was quite tough indeed.  Wonder effect sections were a great idea that this game mostly implements well.

Indeed, of the things to find in each stage beyond the regular goal, Wonder effects are the best by far.  The regular three NSMB series-style hidden giant coins are standard stuff, fun to find if you want, but the Wonder sections are inventive and interesting most of the time.  My only real criticism is that too many use timed music style effects, I don’t like music that way so they lost me with how much of that stuff this game has in it.  Most will disagree with me about this I am sure, but it’s my opinion; this game has too much music level style stuff, I don’t like it much.

Considering how many stages this game has and how many varied effects there are, though, this is a pretty minor complaint.  There are probably dozens of levels in this game with great, interesting Wonder Flower sections that I greatly enjoyed finding and playing through.  I highly recommend finding all of the Wonder flowers, it’s worth it!

Maybe This Games’ Biggest Flaw: The Boss Fights

Now, however, I need to talk about probably the worst thing about this game.  This is something other reviews have mentioned, and they are entirely right!  Yes, I’m talking about how bad, or absent, the bosses are in SMBW.  In this whole maybe 20 hour game with eight worlds and scores of levels, there are a total of five boss fights.  Total, in the whole game.  And four of them are against Bowser Jr.  What about the other three worlds, you say?  Well, two of the six numbered worlds don’t have bosses, and the bonus world doesn’t have a boss either.  It was very disappointing to finish what was mostly a pretty good and interesting world only to find that there wasn’t a boss, it just ended abruptly, gave me a royal seed as a reward for victory, and sent me on to the next world.  After you beat each world, one of these snakes guarding Castle Bowser is destroyed.  You’d think that Bowser would protect the things which protect his new castle form, but nope, he didn’t bother to protect them all with anything.  It’s really strange and makes the game feel incomplete.

And as for those fights, the four fights against Jr. are quite conventional.  The designers tried to mix things up a bit by modifying the stage with things like giant bubbles floating around in the boss room you can move around in, but on the whole these are extremely standard “bop him on the head a few times and dodge his attacks” battles, almost exactly the same as NSMB boss fights of years past.  Except those games had a boss in every world and a lot more boss variety, so bosses are the one thing that Wonder can’t match the New series in, that’s for sure.  The Bowser fight at the end of the game is much more unique, but while somewhat conceptually interesting though unfortunately the music theme returns here with a vengeance, I found it oddly easy; I beat it first try.  So yeah, boss fights are not Mario Wonder’s strong suit.  Ah well.

In addition to the five regular boss fights, there are also boss rooms of sorts at the end of each of the several airship level that Kamek teleports in.  These have a robot Bowser head at the end of a two screen long area, with obstacles in the way.  The problem is, these aren’t really boss figths because all you do is go right for a couple of seconds, maybe avoid the obstacles or maybe damage boost through them, jump on top of robo-Bowser, jump on the red button on top of its head once, and you win, level over.  These rooms are conceptually interesting but by making them only seconds long with virtually zero challenge in any of them, I’m honestly not sure why they even exist.  Why tease these interesting encounters then instead just have something so basic and probably easier to beat than some regular enemies?  SMB3 or World’s bosses aren’t the hardest ever, but they put up more resistance than these rooms.  You need to hit them three times each, for one thing, instead of only once.

Also, the the two worlds without bosses are the worlds with the fewest stages and wonder flowers or seeds in them.  This makes the game feel almost rushed.  Nintendo said that the development team for Wonder had as much time as they needed, so perhaps not, but the game suggests otherwise.  I have a hard time believing that the game was intended all along to have such huge disparities in world length, with one having a mere 17 wonder flowers to get while others have 30 or more, and with several not having bosses either.  Despite Nintendo’s words maybe the game actually was rushed?  I have no idea, but whatever the cause of this it’s really unfortunate and hurts Mario Wonder.

Additionally, it’s particularly weird that you don’t fight Kamek, because the guy appears in the game, summoning airships for you to face and more.  But you never fight him in any way yourself.  It’s really strange, how did the game ship like this?

Multiplayer and Online

SMBW has local and online four player co-op multiplayer.  Unlike Mario Maker 2 or the NSMB games, however, in this title you can’t interact with the other players, they are like ghosts, kind of like human verisons of the AI ghost you could race against in the Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (GBC) multiplayer levels.  This decision removes some of the fun of multiplayer, but also a lot of the frustration, and overall was probably a good idea.  The game doesn’t have any kind of ingame chat of course, but this is a Nintendo game, none of them do.  You can only play with people you have listed as friends outside of the game or randoms.

In addition to the multiplayer, this game also has an optional online component to its single player mode.  If you go to the online towers in the levels, you can enable online features.  Do this and you will sometimes see the ghosts of other players going through levels as you play.  You can leave Standees for other players as well, cardboard cutouts of sorts with an image on them.  These can help other players at tricky areas.  You can resurrect players who are knocked out, too, if you wish.

You start with only one standee to place, but can buy more through a random draw gatcha in the shops, spending 10 purple coins for each attempt to get a new one.  Each character has a bunch of different poses to unlock.  If you get one you already have, too bad, you get nothing.  Yes, you can’t just buy the standee you want.  In the postgame bonus world you do get a new shop with more expensive gatcha draws each for one specific character, but still the result is random.  It works, but is a pretty annoying feature, why does Mario have random draw rewards in it?  You probably should have just been able to buy them if you want for more money, or use a random draw for less.  You get a lot of extra purple coins to throw at this gatcha, though, so you should get a lot of them by the end.

I chose to leave the online features off, because I don’t need the game made easier for me; it’s plenty easy enough as it is, having other players around resurrecting me if I fall or something isn’t the kind of experience I want.  But for those who do want that this is a pretty interesting feature for a Mario game to implement and it seems to be done well.

Conclusion

Overall, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a fantastic game.  The game has some issues, but the vast majority of the game is fantastic fun.  This isn’t a forever game like Super Mario Maker 2, it’s something to play for a while, finish, and move on from unless you want to go back to collect absolutely everything, but that’s fine; there is absolutely nothing wrong with a standard single player experience meant to be played through and completed.  As someone who for some years now has spent way too much time with online forever games and not with actual completable experiences, including Super Mario Maker 2, Splatoon, Dead or Alive 6, 3DS Picross titles and their huge amounts of puzzles to get through, and such, having something that I can play, finish, and mostly greatly enjoy in a relatively short amount of time is great.

On the main issues I covered, I think that Mario Wonder has enough content for the most part, and the challenge level is enough to keep the game fun most of the time.  I wish that there were a few more stages and secrets in several of the worlds and a few more bosses, but even as it is this is a truly fantastic game that stands near the peak of the platforming genre.  the new enemies are interesting and amusing, the Wonder effects varied and mostly good, the absence of a ‘rescue the princess’ plot welcome, the visuals rock-solid in framerate and as good looking as the Switch can do, the art styles varied and often new for the series, and so much more!  Super Mario Bros. Wonder is an experience not to be missed.  There’s more than enough here to charm and enthrall just about anyone for a while.  I give it an A rating, close to an A+ but not quite.

Comparing this to the other Mario games of the past few decades, as I said at the start I’d put it above all NSMB games by a good margin.  I don’t think it’s quite as amazing as Mario Galaxy or Mario 3D World, but I definitely do like it more than Odyssey.  It’s great.

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Super Mario Maker 2 – My Oct. 2023 Update, along with some commentary on SMM1 and Super Mario Wonder as well

Yes, my favorite game of the current century is indeed one I’m still playing, and making levels for.  I’ve got two things to discuss this time, my latest levels and a certain accomplishment I completed.  It’s not the hardest thing you could do in this game but it took me quite a while so I’m pretty happy I did it.

For my levels, I have uploaded three levels since my last post in May.  Two of the three are uncleared, and none of my older uncleared levels have been cleared either, unsurprisingly; a lot of people have left this game, sadly.  I get it, Super Mario Wonder is out — and yes I do have it and it’s quite good, I will write about that game on this site soonish for sure — but still, Mario Maker 2 is incredible.  Wonder is fantastic, but nothing else matches Mario Maker 2 at its best.

Lastly, at the end I also have a little comment on Nintendo’s latest awful announcement about the Wii U and Super Mario Maker 1.  That game is being shut down next year along with all Wii U online services.  It’s sad but true.  I hope that Mario Maker 2 won’t be joining it any time soon.

My Latest Super Mario Maker 2 Levels

First, in July, three months after my previous level, I made another level: Bouncing in the Clouds.  This is another Super Mario Bros. 3-theme level with the sky theme, since I hadn’t made a sky SMB3 level before and I decided I wanted to.  The level code is MGW-448-DWG.  My clear time was 2:20, so it’s a mid-length level.  I think the length is just about right.  This stage has two parts.  It starts out with a fairly standard for me jumping section where you are jumping between small platforms and bounce pads in the clouds, as the name says.  I really like this kind of stage, where you aren’t as pressured as you are in kaizo to do exactly the right move at exactly the right timing or you die immediately but do have reasonably challenging jumps to navigate.  This is what I think platformers are about.  Sure, the concept and execution here are simple, but it’s the fun kind of simple.

The second part of the level was a challenge I set for myself: I wanted to try to build a custom boss challenge room.  Now, in Mario Maker games there are two kinds of boss fights: one where you fight one of the standard bosses, either in a plain room or in some custom chamber, and contraptions that function as a boss using some kind of hopefully clever item usage to create a boss-like experience.  I’d never tried to make one of the latter kind of boss rooms before this level but was interested in trying.  The resulting area isn’t incredibly complex, but I think it works well.  It’s a several screen high area where you first have to get to the top of a large box with flame jets coming out of all of its sides, then get a shell, then go back down and throw that shell into a small hole on one side of the large box structure.  Repeat this three times and you get a key and can proceed to the end.  Is it frustrating sometimes, sure, but it’s a fair challenge.  I’d love to get some feedback on this room but I like the results, it’s challenging but fun.  I think I succeeded at what I wanted to do.

My next stage published a bit over a month after the previous one.  Actually, though, I completed the basic layout of the third level I’m covering here before I started this one. I decided that I wanted to make another hard level with shell jumps in it and such… but I wanted more than that, so after some experimentation I thought of something: how about not just jumping off of a shell, but jumping off of a snowball that a Spike’s throwing at you from the top of a cliff in order to get to the top of that cliff?  You see, in the winter theme the green enemy called Spike throws snowballs at you instead of spike balls.  They are, obviously, much less deadly, and you can jump off of them normally.  They bounce you back if they hit you, though. Spikes in the winter Super Mario World theme don’t run at you, either, they stand still throwing snowballs at you.  This is key for how these levels work.

A lot of levels have snowballs, but I’ve never seen a level with this particular usage of them before, myself.  After completing the design of the level, though, I was intimidated by how hard it would be for a pretty average player like me to clear it, so I didn’t even try to do so for weeks.  I decided, instead, to make a short level that focused exclusively on the tech I’d thought of, jumping off of diagonally falling snowballs in order to make it up cliffs.  Watch out for the Spikes on top of the cliffs, though, they are right in front of you!  Precise landing of your jumps is required.  This level was uploaded in late August.  It’s Snowball Jump Trials and has the level code B70-1HX-X1H.  It is a winter-themed Super Mario World theme stage and my clear time was 1 minute 20.

The stage has three of these snowball jumps, with the last one being a bit trickier than the first two since I didn’t put in any guide coins.  I also put in a little puzzle at the end; it’s nothing hard, but maybe don’t kill that last Spike… you’ll need it.  Heh.  Get past the puzzle and you win.  This is a short level that’s only a minute and a bit long, and with its moderate difficulty and short length it’s not surprising that it has clears and a few likes.  If I made more levels this length and not as long as most of my levels are I’m sure they’d be cleared more often, but… I can’t help it, overall I like making a longer level more than a shorter one.  I do like this level though, it’s a fun little challenge with a tech that I’m surprised I haven’t seen levels use.

 

After uploading Snowball Jump Trials, some time passed.  Eventually I decided to start trying to actually clear that previous harder level that I had designed.  Its name is The Mountain of Torment and its level code is PGP-1L1-F0G.  I uploaded it in late October.  My clear check time was 4:12, but you can do significantly better; I decided to not do the thing I’d usually do and keep trying until I got a clean run because it was decent enough to do.  I’m sure you could clear this level in at least a minute less than my clear check, and perhaps less than that.  As with the previous stage it is a winter themed Super Mario World level.  This level starts out fairly normally, until you hit the up pipe jump.  Past that you have snowball jumps, a vertical section, a few shell jumps where you have to hit the shell in midair over a gap, and more.  There isn’t any crazy hard tech here, but there is enough to make the level a stiff challenge for me.

So once I started trying to upload the stage I started out not doing well at all, which is unsurprising given all the moderately tricky techs I put in the stage.  I tweaked things here and there, gave it a few tries now and then, and then put it aside for a bit.  Eventually I decided I really wanted to clear it before the end of October, so I got more serious about playing the level.  The practice really paid off and I knew I could clear it.  And then I did… and then I realized that I’d made the boss room key door a regular door for testing and hadn’t fixed the issue.  Oops. I’m glad I’d messed that up though, because before the final upload I made a few more tweaks that improved the level, it’d be a less good level without them.

After fixing that mistake I put the game down for a bit, got Mario Wonder since it released about then, and didn’t return to Mario Maker 2 until several days later.  Once I got back to this level though, I cleared and uploaded it surprisingly quickly.  It’s not that hard of a level, kaizo players would surely consider it easy.  I’m just not good enough to consistently hit the jumps the way a good player could.  I’m sure a good player would beat this level in five minutes.  I found it challenging though, and I think it made me better at this game, too — I’m hitting shell jumps more consistently than I did before I built this stage for sure.  Trying to beat a level that is hard for you is a great way to get better at Mario Maker 2.  So, why not give this level a try?  If you’re good you will beat it without too much trouble I imagine, but if you’re not you will get better at the game as you try to clear it.  I had a lot of fun uploading this level and don’t regret a second of the time I spent playing it.

 

My Other Mario Maker 2 Accomplishment

So, what is that other thing I did in Mario Maker 2?  I finally completed a run of getting over a thousand clears in Endless Normal.  This isn’t an arbitrary goal because getting a thousand clears in each of the games’ four difficulty levels unlocks a costume item for your Mario Maker avatar.  Beating a thousand levels in Normal may sound easy, and for a good player I’m sure it would be, but it really isn’t.  While most Normal levels are not all that hard, Normal throws curveballs at you sometimes, occasionally hurling something straight out of Super Expert and at you because the only people who had played it before are very good.  You also start with only five lives  in Normal, which is not enough.  Most of my runs in Normal end quickly because of not having enough lives to survive.  Once I decided to see how far I could get in Normal, I thought it’d be easier than it was; Easy is extremely easy and Expert is hard, so Normal will be only a medium challenge at best, right?

Well, if played without skipping those occasional hard levels that drop into Normal, not so much.   My first good run at endless Normal ended at like 500-something lives.  I played most of it no skip, before starting to skip once my lives got low.  Looking back, I think that I could only have gotten that far without skipping because whenever I did this last year or such the levels weren’t as hard as they are now, because the levels I played this time were hard!  The levels in Mario Maker 2 have gotten harder over time as players get better, so this does make sense.  I’m better than I used to be at this game, and so are many other people, and the levels you get reflect that.  My second attempt at endless normal got me to 700-something levels, before it sadly crashed out because I spent way too many lives on an absurdly hard level I’d never have been able to clear and should have skipped early.  I didn’t game over on that level but I never recovered my life count after burning like 30 lives on one level.

After that, I told myself that my third attempt would not go like the previous ones.  I’d skip any level that I was dying on much in order to keep the run going.  I’d try to fight my instinct to keep trying those levels I know I can beat at a cost of too many lives.   And this time, it worked!  Well, kind of.  I did indeed finally get to a thousand clears, a long time after I started this challenge because I’d play a few levels here and there most of the time, other than a few days where I’d just play endless N0rmal for hours, but a bit over a thousand levels completed now I have only 28 lives.  Considering that your life counter maxes out at 99, that’s not great.  I had more than 50 lives at a bit over 900 clears, but stopped playing much for weeks after reaching that point.  Once I got back to it I quickly wasted over half of those lives on various hard levels.  I ran into so many awful, poorly designed life-drainer levels that it’s kind of crazy!  Sure, I skipped them if I couldn’t beat them in three or five lives or so, but when you keep going -5 on levels and then on the levels you do clear you only get back maybe one life in a stage it adds up to a rapid life decline.  This is why knowing how to bounce on a shell just right to get lives from a single shell is such a useful technique, it’s too bad I haven’t learned it yet.  Oh well.  Dying on levels I should have beaten didn’t help either, but that’s just how I am, I consistently choke when there is pressure, only to beat that same level in a try or two once I’ve skipped it and am playing it without the pressure of limited lives.

Anyway, at least I did stop the life decline — I got down to 18 lives at the low point, ten less than I have now — and completed the thousand clear challenge, so even if I made it hard for myself I got that costume and completed a major accomplishment in this game.  Of the four 1000 level awards in Endless, I easily could get the one in Easy, I just haven’t because Easy levels are incredibly, mind-numbingly easy.  Almost none provide any kind of a challenge at all, I don’t find Easy very fun for more than a stage or two here and there.  Maybe I will do this eventually just to get the reward, I’m not sure.  As for Expert, my record is still 9.  I doubt I’ll get to a thousand anytime, heh.  And Super Expert’s not happening, it’s way too hard for me to beat more than a level or two in a run.  Ah well.  Still, only about 5,400 people have completed a thousand levels in endless Normal, so this is a decent accomplishment in this game considering how many people have played it.

Conclusion

Overall, as great as the wildly imaginative new enemies, design ideas, and more of Super Mario Bros. Wonder and its mostly well-designed stages are, I honestly do prefer this game.  Sure, a lot of the levels are terrible, unfair, broken messes, and a lot of the rest are pretty bland, but the magic of never knowing what you’re going to get, seeing the kinds good and bad of things people make with this toolkit?  There’s nothing like it.  Even so, though, Wonder is fantastic and I’ll get back to it soon.  My next article will be about SMB Wonder.  As for Super Mario Maker 2, though, it’s still every bit as incredible a game as it ever has been.  I wish that it had more stage themes and such, and yes I badly hope that we eventually get a Super Mario Maker 3, but as long as this game continues to get support I will play it.

On that note, though, Nintendo has announced that all Nintendo Wii U online services will be turned off early-ish in 2024.  This means that the Super Mario Maker 1 online servers will be disconnected then, rendering the game basically useless since it does not have much built-in content.  There probably is or will be a private server, but it’s not the same as the real Nintendo server.  This is yet another expected but horrendous decision from Nintendo; surely the Wii U / 3DS servers could have been left up, particularly for key games like this one that still draw interest… but Nintendo doesn’t care about that, they only care about if you are buying things for their current system.  It’s a real shame.  This will probably happen to Mario Maker 2 someday as well, though the much greater success of the Switch hopefully will push that back a long time.  In these last months of the official SMM1 servers, though, some people are trying to clear every level in the game.  There are only about 18,000 uncleared uploaded and not deleted levels left in all of SMM1, so it is a possibly attainable goal.  Can SMM1 be finished before it’s shut down?  It’ll be very interesting to see!  I hope this can be done.

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F-Zero 99 Impressions & Review – One of the Year’s Best Games!

Introduction and On the Other ’99’ Titles

Within the past few months, rumors of a new F-Zero game surfaced.  I wasn’t sure whether to believe them or not given how long it has been — it has been over 15 years since the last entry on the GBA — but… it happened!  F-Zero has returned… as a multiplayer-only battle royale-style racing game.  This latest entry in the “99” line of titles has graphics and tracks taken from the original Super Nintendo F-Zero game, but with some new game mechanics and lots more players.  It’s chaotic and intense but is pretty fantastic once you get used to it.  This is the fourth Switch ‘battle royale’ game, and the third from Nintendo itself.

Nintendo’s first Battle Royale game, Tetris 99, is outstanding and still is quite popular, but the big question is, how long will this game be available for?  Because while Tetris 99 is still available and supported, the other games in this category of sorts of Nintendo Battle Royale games are not.  Super Mario 35 was announced as a time-limited title and was indeed shut down as scheduled.  I have no idea why they made the game time limited, but I didn’t like it all that much anyway; the physics were just a bit off, not quite NES Mario physics and very far from NSMB.  As for the other one, Pac-Man 99, the game is a Switch exclusive but is run by Namco.  The game is about to be shut down.  I have no idea why Namco is shutting it down now, and it’s really unfortunate that they are because from what I played of it it’s pretty good, but I do admit I was probably part of the problem, I wasn’t playing it much.  I presume player numbers must not have been that high, unfortunately.  Too bad. 

So, the rocky history of these games leaves me skeptical about F-Zero 99’s future.  I hope that this game is more Tetris 99 than Mario 35!  F-Zero 99 is really good, it’d be a shame if it vanishes for no reason at some time not that far in the future.  I recommend playing this game while you can, it’s really worth it.  Another reason to play this game now is that some modes rotate in and out, if you want to play all of the tracks you’ll need to keep coming back.  That so many modern games have features like this in them that force you to play one game for a long time is another issue that I have very mixed feelings about, but … I can’t help but play this game, it’s too fun to ignore.  Yes, it’s endless games like this that are why I don’t actually finish games very often anymore.

 

F-Zero 99 – The Basics

But this is an article about F-Zero 99, not those other titles.  F-Zero 99 is SNES F-Zero but with 99 racers and some new features.  The game controls a lot like the Super Nintendo game, so control is responsive and feels great.  The game feels designed to be played with a D-pad, though; analog controls exist but are incredibly twitchy, I hate the feel of this with analog.  So that Switch analog stick will sit there unused like usual… heh, with the kinds of games I mostly play on Switch I rarely use that thing.  This game works fine as it is, but better analog controls might have been nice.  I know Nintendo wanted to prioritize being able to play this game with a d-pad because they wanted the game to play well on the Switch Super Nintendo-style controller, and that was a good decision, but the analog controls are incredibly twitchy, I find playing with analog very difficult and awful-feeling.  The analog stick controls could have been a lot better, I’m sure.  The other thing that needs work is the options menu, which has some missing options that should exist.  Audio volume options are badly needed, for example; the music in this game is too quiet, and you can’t turn it up.  It’s kind of annoying to have to turn my TV volume way up just for this one game, then back down for anything else.  There also isn’t an option to dis[play the speed in miles per hour, which is a bizarre oversight to make.  The speed in this game doesn’t matter much, but it should not have shipped only in kilometers per hour, those numbers are somewhat meaningless to me.  Some past F-Zero games were also metric only but still, that’s an issue that could have been fixed. 
But really, that’s it for issues as far as controls and options go, everything else is good.  And these issues are pretty minor; just use the d-pad and maybe turn the sound up a bit and you’re good.
As far as the gameplay goes, F-Zero 99 starts with the Super Nintendo game.  Just like in that classic, the tracks are Mode 7 style rotating flat planes, and the vehicles are sprites.   The game has a nice minimap just like the SNES game, except now it shows your and your rivals’ positions.  There is also a new zoomed in map which shows all cars close to you but doesn’t show the shape of the track.  The graphics are very sharp and high resolution, of course, making the game much sharper looking than the SNES game, but the similarity is clear.  This modern take on classic SNES graphics looks fantastic.  The controls and handling are similar to the original, so control is tight and responsive.  Just like in the original, each of the four hovercars you can choose between has a very different feel to how it controls.  It’s great that the four are so different, four vehicles may not be many but when they are this different it’s enough.  And just like the original, in addition to the racers in the race there are also AI-controlled obstacle cars called bumpers.  The two bumpers from the original game return, with two new ones added.  Just like in the original, grey bumpers litter the course and just get in the way, while red bumpers explode when you touch them greatly damaging your car.  The new types are blue and yellow.  Yellow bumpers give you a bunch of yellow orbs, more on that soon, and blue ones are human-controlled obstacle cars the game sometimes lets you control if you crash out early in a race.

And on that note, F-Zero 99 may start with the SNES game, but it builds off of it to fit its new genre and for the new control and game features that have been added in.  Nintendo did a lot more here than just port the SNES game and add a lot more cars, there are new game mechanics present.  First, the track designs, while extremely faithful to the original, have been expanded in scale to fit the larger field.  Some track elements have been made easier, also — rumble strip areas don’t slow you down as much as they do on SNES, and White Land II’s big jump is significantly shorter and easier, for example.  These changes are mostly okay, apart from the White Land II jump, I really wish they hadn’t messed with that.  F-Zero 99’s tracks are challenging since they are the SNES F-Zero tracks, but the primary challenge comes from the other humans more so than the course.  Overall I think they struck the right balance with track redesign.  Each track has an opening start area as well, a fan-shaped area where all the cars start before driving towards the games’ starting line in the course.  The fan-shaped starting area finishes with a jump to the straightaway to the starting line.  This solves the starting-line issue with so many cars in a fair way, it was a really good idea. 

But as far as game mechanics go, there are a few major changes.  First, and least importantly, SNES F-Zero has five laps while this game has four, but the scaled-up size of the tracks to fit the large field keeps race lengths similar.  More significantly, the the boost system of the rest of the series has been put in this game, so boosting boosts away your health.  The SNES game just gave you one boost per lap, but F-Zero X and beyond have boosting reduce your health energy bar.  I really like that this mechanic is here, it adds a lot to the game.  Boosting, hitting a wall, or bumping other vehicles reduces your energy.  If you run out of energy or go off the track on a jump, you explode and that’s it, you lose; there are no second chances in a race in this game.   Each track has a recharge pit area that heals some of your energy.  How much you get back depends on the vehicle you’ve chosen and how long the tracks’ recharge area is.  Some vehicles recharge energy much faster but have lower top speeds, while others recharge slower but have a higher top speed.  The game is well-balanced and those vehicle differences are interesting.

The second, and probably most important, new ability is about the superboosts to the Skyway.  This new super-boost ability has been added.  When any car damages other vehicles with a spin attack — another feature from later F-Zero games back-ported to the original here — yellow orbs drop.  If you attack others you directly get a bit of meter, but most of the meter building will come from collecting the yellow orbs other players drop behind them upon every spin-attack hit between vehicles.  Additionally, there are some large yellow AI-controlled vehicles that give you a whole bunch of yellow orbs all at once if you touch them.  Once the meter is filled, if you hit the boost button instead of doing a normal boost you will go up into the sky to the Skyway, a second path in the air above each track.  You stay on this more streamlined course for as long as your now-rapidly-depleting boost meter allows.  Timing your uses of the superboost is one of the most important skills you will need to learn in order to do better at this game, because where you start a superboost can have a large impact on how much ground you gain from it.  You will only get a couple of superboosts per race most of the time, since the meter takes a while to charge up, so you need to use them well.  This mechanic is not something any previous game in the series has any analog to, and I’m not sure if I like it all that much overall because it allows you to avoid the challenging parts of a track and sometimes gain a large advantage through just using a boost well instead of through good driving skill, but it is an interesting mechanic that is key to the game.  Superboosts are a lot of fun and timing when to use them is key to this games’ strategy, but when Skyway trips skip like half of the track, as they do with a few of the courses, it kind of removes the challenge of the track, you know?  This is particularly an issue with the track Red Canyon, for example.  On the other hand, the superboost makes this game more accessible to new players and on the surface makes the game easier, but a good player will still do better due to racing better, knowing exactly when to use a superboost, and such.  It’s an interesting and somewhat mixed-bag mechanic.

Lastly for this section, one thing that is kind of the same and kind of a change is the way in-race eliminations for low position work.  SNES F-Zero is a game where each lap the position you must finish that lap in decreases. By the final lap of the five-lap race you must be in the top three to finish.  If you finish a lap in too low a place you lose a life, and you get only a few tries per prix before you have to start over.  F-Zero 99 kind of keeps this system, but scales it down dramatically in importance.  Where on the SNES the core of the game is the battle to learn the tracks well enough to not get ranked out because of not being in a high enough position, here in F-Zero 99 only a relative few get ranked out.  The way it works is that periodically the bottom five or so will be eliminated, but this only happens once a lap or so so by the end of the race at least 75-80 people generally will have finished.  Just stay out of the very back of the field and you’ll be fine here.  It is possible to get ranked out, I’ve had it happen a couple of times, but it’s very rare.  Make no mistake though, F-Zero 99 is a hard game.  The tracks have been made slightly easier than their SNES counterparts in some ways, and the game doesn’t have a mode which constantly eliminates people putting SNES F-Zero levels of “stay at the very front or you’re out” pressure on you, but that game is learnable, good play will reward you with victory.  Here, with 99 human players doing all kinds of random things, luck is a significant factor, and more driving skill will be required to overcome the challenge of all of those other humans.

 

Rank and Unlockables

 

And lastly, as it is a modern endless multiplayer-focused game, F-Zero 99 has a leveling system and a lot of cosmetics to unlock.  There is no cash shop here, thankfully; you unlock everything through play.  As with many online games, there are two separate rankings in this game, your level and your online player grade.  The former goes up after every race, with more experience for better performance.  The latter, however, floats up or down depending on how you did.  The game uses a letter grade system like a lot of Japanese online games, so you start at a D grade and go up to C, B, A, and then S.  After S you gain more S ranks, until hitting the current maximum of S20, I believe.  This whole system is based on a strange mechanic, though: you gain or lose rank based on how many of four rival players that the game chose before the race you finish ahead of.  If you finish ahead of all four you get the most possible ranking points, if you finish ahead of at least one you get some ranking points, and if you finish behind all four you lose ranking points.  So, you want to finish ahead of these people if at all possible.  In single races the rivals are chosen based on people close to your level and total experience points.  In mini or grand prixes, though, your rivals for races two and after are based on the four opponents closest to you in the cup ranking, so it’ll be the two people above you and the two below you unless you are in the top or bottom two overall.  The system is strange and I don’t know if it was a good idea or not to have your rank be based on whether you finish ahead of arbitrary other racers, but it works.

As for those unlockables, this game may only have the four cars from the original SNES F-Zero game to choose from, but it makes those four machines look like a lot more by having a lot of different car paint skins to unlock, all in colorful palettes.  You don’t buy them with currency though, this game doesn’t have currency.  Instead these unlock like achievements, so you need to accomplish specific tasks in order to get skins.  In addition to car skins there are also unlockables for your player logo that is displayed during multiplayer.  This logo will show your vehicle of choice, a background, a frame, and three icons below.  You can customize all of these elements from the things you have unlocked based on your level and accomplishments.  Some of these things unlock based on pure play time, while others require accomplishing specific things.  You can also unlock some other things such as new boost and skyway colors, there is a nice amount of stuff here to unlock.  I think F-Zero 99 does a good job of having enough here to make the player want to keep coming back to get more cool skins and icons and such.

And lastly, the game has a weekly player ranking system.  Every time you play a Mini Prix or a Grand Prix, the level points you get in the end are totaled up and added to a running weekly total.  Note, this is based on the level points you got based on your finishing position and bonuses and such, not your player grade, so it isn’t arbitrary.  On the games’ main menu you can view the weekly player rankings.  Here the game shows how everyone is doing, so you can see who’s got the most rank points this week, where you stand, and such.  At the end of each week, the game tells you what place you finished that week in.  I’m pretty mediocre, I finished something like 17,000th place the first week and like 10- thousandth the second.  It’s fine, the game is fun regardless.  I like that the game has something to play for here to keep people engaged with the Prixes.  Nintendo did a great job making this a game which is both simple and complex, fun for a few minutes but rewarding to play for hours, accessible but also something with rewards for the good players.

The Game Modes and Amount of Content

 

The core of the F-Zero 99 experience is a lot like SNES F-Zero, though, just in modern resolution widescreen and with the insane, intense chaos of 99 human-controlled racers on the track, all driving around and whacking into eachother.  This is a wonderful game with, as described above, solid rewards for people who keep playing it.  As for the actual tracks you drive on, though, there are a pretty limited number of them.  Right now this is probably the games’ main issue.  The Super Nintendo F-Zero game had 15 tracks, which is a decent number but a lot less than its sequels would have.  At launch in F-Zero 99, 7 of the 15 tracks from the original Super Nintendo game were playable.  This felt like definitely too few tracks.  An update in late September added five more, leaving three not in the game yet to be added in a future update.  Even though only five tracks were added, this addition has done a lot to alleviate some of the repetition of the initial launch game.  I hope they continue adding tracks after that, starting with the 10 from the two BS F-Zero GP games for the SNES Satellaview.  Each track in this game is relatively short, so even with a decent number of tracks and the four lap races which this game does, plenty of tracks are needed to keep players engaged.
On those Satellaview tracks that hopefully will be added to this game eventually, I presume that Nintendo has copies of those tracks, because only half of them are currently available; the BS F-Zero 2 game we know is based on the Practice rom for BS F-Zero, which included four new cars and five new tracks, while the other five new tracks were only in the main two week versions with Satellaview streaming audio, neither of which has a publicly available rom.  There are a few videos on Youtube of them being played with the original streamed Japanese voiced dialog, though, which is neat.  There are more SNES-style tracks from the GBA games of course, or they could make new courses, but it’d be pretty fantastic to finally see BS F-Zero return, and for everyone to be able to play the five lost tracks!

Anyway, in order to keep player counts up in the modes since this kind of game requires a large player base to function — remember, every single race needs 99 hopefully human players, though if fewer than 99 humans are in a game when its start countdown timer ends it will fill up the field with fairly mediocre AIs — F-Zero 99 has two modes available at a time.  The two are F-Zero 99 mode and a rotating other mode.  Yes, the main F-Zero 99 mode is always available, but the others are not. In all modes,  after a race completes you get level points based on your finishing position and some other bonuses, and gain or lose rank based on whether you finished ahead of or behind your rivals.  Multi-track championships also have their own point totals they keep track of for the championship rankings.

F-Zero 99 mode randomly selects two tracks from a selection of now seven, the first four tracks of Knight Cup and the first three of Queen Cup, then the players vote on which one of the two they want to race on.  That means that in this mode you may race on Mute City I or II, Death Wind I, Big Blue, Red Canyon, Sand Ocean, and Port Town I.  Once the last three tracks are added Mute City III is likely to join this mode, I’d guess but likely not any more.  That would make this games’ biggest weakness, that if often feels like Mute City 99 instead of F-Zero 99 because most people seem to choose Mute City every time it appears, even worse, but at least each of the three Mute City variants is slightly different.
..

The Rotating Slot Modes Include:

Team Battle – This mode races on the same tracks as F-Zero 99 does, except here the players are broken up into two teams which compete with eachother for points.  The two most important sources of points are which team is in the lead during the race and the finishing positions of team members at the end and damage done to members of the other team done with spin attacks during the race.  There are also less points handed out for two other categories, including how many members of the other team your team destroyed.  This mode is okay but it’s definitely my least favorite in the game because the results feel extremely arbitrary, these races aren’t really long enough for team tactics. Also, due to the long wait timer you need to wait through between each spin attack, it’s not like races are filled with action, it’s really about the same as a regular race. This mode would be more interesting if they dramatically reduced the spin attack wait timer for this mode only, I wish they’d do that. As it is though I usually don’t play it.

Mini Prix – A Mini Prix costs one ticket. You earn tickets through play in the modes which don’t cost tickets. This three-race championship has preset tracks, you can’t choose. It will consist of two randomly selected tracks from the ones F-Zero 99 mode chooses between followed by one final track from the ones in Pro Tracks mode (below). You get points based on your finishing position in each race and the winner is the person with the most points at the end of all three tracks. These are pretty fun.  Also, remember that you get points towards the weekly rankings from your finishes here.

Pro Tracks – This mode is the harder tracks that are not the fifth track in a circuit. It currently includes three tracks, which it will select two of to offer the players to choose between. The three tracks here are Port Town II, White Land I, and Death Wind II. Once they add the remaining three tracks Red Canyon II is sure to join this mode. This mode’s great and it would be nice if it was available more as opposed to boring Team Battle mode. These are the most interesting tracks the game regularly lets you play on.

Grand Prix – This mode costs three tickets, so you will need to play for a while to be able to play it. A timer on the main menu tells you how long it is until the next Grand Prix starts, and shows an icon for which cup it will be.  They go every two hours on weekdays and every 20 or 30 minutes on weekends.  Grand Prixes are five track championships.  As in the Mini Prix, you get points after each race, and the winner is the person with the most points after all five races.  After each race the bottom 20 people are eliminated, so getting to each next course gets more difficult. So, only the top 20 from track 4 of the circuit can challenge the final track. For the first few weeks after the game released, this mode was the Knight Cup Grand Prix, and went through the five tracks of Knight Cup, finishing with a track you can’t play in any of the other multiplayer modes, Silence. The first update added the Queen Cup to the rotation as well, going through its five tracks and finishing with White Land II.  Once the King Cup is added the third cup will finally be in the rotation.  Of course, you get a bunch of points towards the weekly rankings for doing well in Grand Prixes.

Again though, even when a cup is running only that one cup is available at a time.  You can’t choose.  And here is where the games’ design decision to lock the final track of each circuit to only ever appear as the fifth track of a Grand Prix is so frustrating, it basically means that you will almost never race these tracks!  Grand Prixes are only occasionally available, and even when they are only one of the three is available then.  It’s frustrating that some of the best tracks in the game are hidden away to very rarely be seen.  This will be a particular shame when the final King Cup track, Fire Field, makes an appearance.  It’s a really good course that deserves more play than “maybe once in a rare while if you’re good”!  On the other hand, these tracks are treated specially — instead of the usual large fan-shaped starting area, the final tracks start you at the starting grid behind the starting line, with all 20 racers lined up in their points order.  It’s pretty cool to have some races with a traditional starting grid in ranked order.

This decision, to lock what will be three of the fifteen tracks to only appear as the final track of a Grand Prix, does make those tracks feel more special but, to emphasize what is maybe this games’ largest issue, it also locks some of the most interesting tracks in the game to barely ever appear or, in the case of the Grand Prix cups not currently in the rotation, to be totally unavailable in multiplayer. I understand why only one cup is available at a time here since the mode modes you offer the greater the likeliness that games won’t fill with 99 racers, but the final tracks really should have versions in the regular modes too. I get the idea of making them special, but I’d rather have more tracks to race on all of the time, I think that would be better.


Anyway, though, that’s the modes in F-Zero 99. This game is really really amazing and addictive and I’m looking forward to its future updates. Again I really hope that they don’t stop with the 15 tracks from the original game and also add the courses from BS F-Zero Grand Prix, that would be amazing…

Conclusion

Overall, I love F-Zero 99.  I’d love to see more content and for them to rethink the “the fifth track of each circuit cannot be played outside of its Grand Prix” decision, but other than this this game is really, really good, very addictive stuff.  I have played quite a few hours of this game, and am over level 30 now, and will certainly continue playing.  F-Zero 99 is an amazing game with great controls, very good, nostalgic graphics, and fantastic gameplay with depth and challenge.  The mechanics are well thought through, the tracks are great, there’s a lot to unlock, and so much more!  There is a good amount of variety here, too, particularly when you’re not playing Mute City 99 instead of F-Zero 99… heh.  This game may be one of the reasons why I don’t play games that actually end anywhere near as often as I probably should, but when something this great comes along, a game this fun and in a genre and series I love this much, I can’t not play it, and you shouldn’t either.  Play F-Zero 99 now, it’s incredible.  This game gets an A grade for sure, and it’s close to an A+; whether it ends up that high somewhat depends on how future content updates for the game go.

 

Note: I edited this article on 10/4 to correct a few errors, most notably about whether the earlier circuits would continue to appear after the next one was published — I thought the Knight League was entirely gone for a while, but if it was it was very brief, both cups are in rotation now.  Otherwise the main changes were to add some needed detail, particularly about the way the rank-out system works and about the unlockables and level systems and such.

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Diablo IV Review of sorts, Part II: Spoiler-Heavy Storyline Analysis & Additional Thoughts

Introduction

After writing my previous article here I continued playing Diablo IV.  As a reminder I am playing it on Xbox Series X in 4k.  I finished the story in Diablo IV in July, just after the first season began on the 21st. My main character is level 53 now.  I have also created a second character with the ‘start with the story completed’ option, for playing the seasonal content.  I’d like to write out my thoughts.  I’ve got three categories here: general gameplay, which is somewhat a repeat of my previous article about the game but hopefully with something new; a spoiler-heavy overview and criticism of the story; and a bit about the current first season, this games’ first piece of temporary added content.

But make no mistake, most of what this article is is my long description of, and complaints about, the story of Diablo IV.  And that is why this is an article and not a review.  My focus here isn’t on the gameplay so much as it is the plot.  The first third or so of this article is about the late-game and seasonal content gameplay, but the rest is focused on the story and its conclusion.

The Game and Postgame

I finished the story in Diablo IV in July, just after the first season began on the 21st.  My main character is level 53 now.  I have also created a second character with the ‘start with the story completed’ option, for playing the seasonal content.  I’d like to write out my thoughts.  I’ve got three categories here: general gameplay, which is somewhat a repeat of my previous article about the game but hopefully with something new; a spoiler-heavy overview and criticism of the story; and a bit about the current first season, this games’ first piece of temporary added content.

Most of that side content is in increasingly difficult dungeons for high level players, the overworld unfortunately apparently becomes even less important later on, but still, it’s content.  My character is currently level 53 so the overworld does still have relevant content for me, but I can tell that there’s only so much more there before you pretty much just spend your time in dungeons.  That’s kind of too bad, particularly compared to Diablo II and its infinite content due to the randomly generated nature of the world, but on the other hand, again, the much more interesting and detailed world, with so many little graphical details, things to look at, all hand-designed… this is better overall.

Also, Blizzard did put some post-completion overworld stuff to do in the game.  Beyond just leveling, first, you can do quests for the Tree of Whispers, which are scattered around the world and have real world timers on them.  Once the timer runs out those quests will be replaced with new ones.  The areas with a lot of these quests will move from zone to zone over time, which is interesting and encourages you to play again another time.

Additionally, in an area later in the game, there is a PvP-allowed zone.  You can fight other players there, if they make an appearance, and also challenge its difficult monsters.  In this zone, every time you die you respawn back in the town in that zone, instead of respawning right near where you died like you do just about anywhere else in this game.  This adds higher stakes to combat, a bit more like Diablo II.  It’s both frustrating and fun since I actually don’t want to die.  This zone has its own exclusive collectible stuff you can get from monsters, and other players, that you can get things with, as well.

Next, of course, you could just focus on levelling, playing dungeons, getting better gear, and increasing your world tier, aka your game difficulty.  For some people this is enough to keep them coming back, but it isn’t at all for me — I just don’t care about grinding or loot, remember — so I’m glad other things exist.  As I said before the level I’ve reached in this game is already higher than any character I made in Diablo II. Some of that is because this story is longer, but the additional things to do along the way are a part of that as well.

The First Season: Season of the Malignant

And last, there is the seasonal content for the first season.  On the one hand, the season is nice because it adds some new things to do in the game for free.  You can pay if you want for a season pass that gives you additional stuff to unlock as you play, but the core content is free, which is nice.  Blizzard obviously would prefer that you pay them, but I have not, I haven’t seen any paid content in this game yet that looks even remotely interesting enough to want to pay for.

There is one major problem with the seasonal content, though: you can’t play seasonal content with the regular character that you completed the game with.  Instead, after finishing the game with one character, you have to make a new character, start them with the story completed which is an option that unlocks after you finish the story, and then you can play the seasonal content with THAT character.

This inexplicably horrible restriction is utterly baffling, I can’t think of even one single reason to block me from seeing most of the new content in this game with the character I want to use, the one I have been playing.  I guess the idea is to force you to play the game more toe level up a new character every few months, since you’ll need to repeat this “make a new character to play the seasonal content” nonsense game every time they come out with a new season?  I absolutely hate everything about this design decision, it’s one of the worst things about Diablo IV.  It’s either that or the story, and I think this might be worse since it forces you to waste your time.  If you want to make a new character that’s fine, that’s part of the fun of the game!  There are a lot of builds to try out and it’s not easy to swap between them even within a class. But FORCING everyone to make new characters constantly is incredibly obnoxious and transparently time-wasting.  This is really awful. I have heard that Diablo III worked the same way, but that is no excuse, this is a very time and customer-negative decision that should not be in the game.

Seasonal Gameplay

I did create a new character though, this time a Druid, and decided to try out that class.  The season starts out with a CGI cutscene which is decently well made.  In this story, which happens after the end of the game, you are helping this guy stop the Malignant, which are living beings and demons who have taken in too much of Lilith’s demonic hatred and have become corrupted monsters, the Malignant.  The setup is simple enough but it works.  Malignant creatures can drop items with new malignant sockets that you can put new malignant hearts in.  These you can craft at a workbench by the guy this story focuses on.

So yeah, the seasonal content is mostly just about grinding for materials to craft. It’s not exactly engaging for me. I know, the plot probably goes somewhere eventually, but as someone who really does not care much at all about crafting or grinding, I don’t know how much of this season I’ll actually play. I’m having fun with my Druid, though I do like Elementalist more, though, and are going back to Diablo IV in part because I am interested to continue with this character. Not much of that has to do with the uninteresting “grind for malignant parts” nonsense I don’t care about.

To be clear though, I’m not saying this season is bad; it’s free content, and any free content additions to a game are appreciated. It’s just not for me. (What does the season pass add for you to unlock? I don’t know, as I said I haven’t paid. Items, I’m sure.)


The Awful Story

So, as I said, I finished this games’ story, and the ending was disappointing even by Diablo IV’s standards. I can tell that Blizzard tried to tell an interesting and dark story here, but it ended up as a mess with mostly not very well written characters and awful plot points one after another. After finishing I thought about writing about the plots’ problems at length, but I’m not sure if it’s actually worth it. But I can’t help myself so here it is, a long discussion about the ending parts of this game.

I should not that I finished the game several weeks ago now so I’m sure I have forgotten some things. That’s fine, this games’ plot does not really deserve to be remembered, it’s bad. Despite that though, here goes.

(Please note, I will never call a games’ story “lore” because I think that is a ridiculous term that is utterly inapplicable for the kind of stories and writing you get in videogames.  This is just mediocre storytelling, not some kind of historical knowledge  that “lore” is supposed to imply.)

The Setting of Diablo and the World of Sanctuary

So, the plot of Diablo IV is about two things. On the supernatural side, there is the demon Lilith, the games’ main antagonist, and her once-love partner and now enemy the angel Inarius, someone you are loosely allied with but don’t get along with very well. The angel Tyrael, your old ally, is missing for no apparent reason, I wonder where he went. He’s never mentioned here. And on the human side, the lead is of course your character, an, as I said in my last article about this game, inexplicably superpowered person who is the only hope to stop Lilith from becoming a very powerful demon and dominating the world of Sanctuary that the game is set on.

The backstory is that Lilith and Inarius created Sanctuary and humanity descend from them. There is a great war between angels and demons, but since humanity are half angel and half demon they aren’t very much liked by either side. Again, as I said in my last article, I don’t like how this is almost Christian, almost monotheistic, but there is absolutely no mention of any God. Instead there are only hosts of angels and demons. It really makes no sense, I wonder why they did things this way. Or rather, again to repeat myself, there are hosts of demons and a couple of angels, with the implication that there are further heavenly hosts that you never see. This does not change to the end of the game, Inarius is the only angel in this game, and he was cast out from the heavens for reasons.

So, in the Diablo world, humans are half angel and half demon, but the demons very very much want to take over their world and massive hordes of demons will constantly attack the place, while angels completely ignore their existence and generally pretend that Sanctuary isn’t even there. It’s a bizarre setting that makes little logical sense except that it is a convenient excuse for a dark fantasy series about tragedy and lots of murder. If humanity wants to save itself from demonic forces they’ll mostly need to do it themselves or, in a Lovecraftian twist, use one demon’s powers against another. That last idea is something Diablo IV does, and it’s one of the more interesting, and successful, elements of the plot. You play Lilith off against her father Mephisto, the Prime Evil demon of hatred, in order to try to defeat both of them by using their blind hatred against them. I think this element of the plot works, once you accept that this is more of a Lovecraftian story than a good versus evil one. There are even three Prime Evils, very Lovecraftian.

Oh, meanwhile, in one corner of the world that you spend time in late in the game, people in a swamp worship a creepy tree, the Tree of Whispers, not Inarius or the demons. Here people follow native shamanist practices. It is suggested that this part of the world somehow is not a part of Sanctuary. I’m not sure how that works. This is probably the only religious group in the game with a mostly positive depiction, and it’s very shamanist stuff. And that in a “angels versus demons and lots of Christian imagery” game? Huh. It’s your classic “disturbing but noble savage shamans who are more morally right than the corrupt Christian conquerors” story, I guess. Talk about dated, that’s questionable stuff these days I would think… it’s not entirely wrong, but it’s not entirely right either.

The more “civilized” peoples do not get such kind treatment in this game. Indeed, the depiction of organized religion and the closest thing the people of Sanctuary have to a god, the angel Inarius, is very VERY highly negative in obnoxiously stereotypically hating-on-organized-religion ways. The church thinks the highest of Inarius, but he acts pretty much exclusively out of self interest. He’s not angelic at all, but is more of an extremely human Greek-style deity or the like. Despite this his human followers of the primary religion are absolutely, fervently loyal to his every word. Inarius even kills his own son at a key point in the plot because he wouldn’t help him in exactly the way Inarius wanted in his quest to get accepted by the heavens again. This fulfills a prophecy that the son has that Inarius misinterpreted to be about him. After doing that Inarius extremely inexplicably does one of the biggest plot hole things in this entire game and leaves the key to hell on the body for Lilith to find soon afterwards. The murder’s explained but seems out of character, it’s a pretty extreme act that I don’t think the plot justifies. And him leaving the key behind afterwards is just insane, it’s a plot hole so obvious, and central to the entire story that happens afterwards because the rest of the story requires Lilith to have that key, that it’s absurd. It’s so badly written and nonsensical!

So, maybe Inarius was actually cast out of heaven not for creating Sanctuary with Lilith, but for being so selfish? There may be some story which says why exactly it happened and why they won’t let him back in, but if there is I don’t know it. We know the heavens think little of Sanctuary, though given how interested demons are in conquering the place you’d think they’d care enough to want to stop them, but whatever, this is somewhat Lovecraftian dark fantasy, not high fantasy. Regardless, Inarius doesn’t know why he isn’t being accepted back either, in this game.

But Inarius is not alone, as I said he heads a church. This church is headquartered in the main city of the first area you visit, in Kyovashad. This church is very devoted to Inarius and blindly believe he is the greatest thing ever. Your character and the Horadrim, meanwhile, are much more skeptical, and you are shown to be right every time. They don’t get the lesson and end up mostly dead for their faith. The tiny clique of the Horadrim are a mess at the end of this game too, though, so really nobody ends up with a happy ending here. Even so, the morality here is stark: the true religious believers are wrong and foolish, the evil forces are evil, the good forces are mostly absent, and your tiny group of heroes will save the day but at a cost and after that will do some extremely stupid things for no apparent reason. But I’ll get to THAT plot hole slash sequel hook later.

But regardless, even though organized religion and Christianity has plenty of negatives, its depiction in this game is way too negative. The analog is not one to one, this is a religion worshipping someone who they can actually talk to and not the more metaphysical relationship real world religions have with the divine, but the game only uses that to highlight how dumb those foolish zealots are. Blizzard didn’t even TRY to make them look like decent characters… are they less awful than the demons, yes, of course, but they’re the worst of religion all in one group, all self-centered and extremely violent, with little of the good side of actual religion. Those devoted to religion here are murderous zealots. And Blizzard are too cowardly to mention the word God in this very religiously themed game, it is merely a world of angels and demons and not a creator.

The Plot’s Conclusion

So, what actually happens at the end? Well, after various adventures across the continent chasing Lilith and her minions and defeating plenty of demons, you finally find the door to Hell that she has opened, and the plot can move to its final act. It’s in a certain desert city. Inarius and his church army attack that city promptly, relying on that prophecy of his son’s (remember, the son he killed for no good reason) that he thinks is about him. This city welcomed in Lilith and became a base for demonic summoning. The church army purge the place with massive violence and slaughter the Lilith-worshipping population. I’m pretty sure you are supposed to think of both sides as bad, though the demons are worse since they are trying to take over the world in a way Inarius isn’t. He wants to escape Sanctuary, not conquer it.

After this, while your characters are delayed for a few minutes going around a collapsed building and fighting a boss, a massive battle dramatically longer than your short trip to the portal to Hell takes place in a long cutscene. That this battle goes on for so long without you is pretty much impossible plotwise, you’d never have been that delayed. It’s nonsense to serve the plot going in an inevitably tragic direction. You see, after entering Hell, the army of light at first fend off the massive hordes of demons. Then, Inarius and Lilith fight… and, while he was about to win, after he has a moment of weakness when he thinks about her, she kills him. She is badly wounded as well and retreats. After his death the army of light is utterly annihilated, again in a pretty unrealistic way, the portal was right there.

Only then does the cutscene end and you finally enter. There are dead knights everywhere in Hell, like a thousand times more of them than you ever saw in the city before. But that’s videogames, you can’t depict whole armies in this detail in-game in this kind of game. Here you fight through the demons, defeat Lilith, and end up sealing her father Mephisto the prime evil in the crystal you created instead of her, because he is the greater threat. The choice of which one to seal is a major decision for the Horadrim and it’s unclear which choice is right, but sealing the prime evil and not the one who wants to become a prime evil but currently is not one seems to make sense.

Now, in Diablo, the way this series continues is that it is explained that at least some demons can eventually reform. Kill a prime evil and they aren’t dead forever, they will be back. So, killing Lilith may not actually end her forever, particularly since she isn’t sealed in a crystal. This begs the question then, is Inarius dead for real, or not? It wouldn’t make sense that a high demon can reform but not a high angel, they should be equivalent beings. So maybe Inarius could return as well, who knows what they will decide on that front later on. This is a question I wonder about but the game doesn’t answer. Demons are the focus here, not the side of good, such as it is. I think their approach is misguided.

The Forces of Evil

And with that, I should move on to those evil forces, Lilith and Mephisto. Mephisto, in the form of an injured wolf, finds your character at the beginning of the game and saves your life from a storm. He then helps you out at key moments in the plot, thinking that you are the best way to stop Lilith from stealing his powers while he is in this injured state due to being killed in a previous Diablo game. You return the favor by, in the end, sealing him in a Crystal, though he’ll be back, presumably in an expansion, the ending has a blatant sequel hook that makes that pretty clear. I think Mephisto is decently written. His is a fairly standard character but it’s done well enough.

As for Lilith, the main villain of this game, through most of the game the writers try to create a dichotomy in her character. On the one hand, she appeals to people to make a better world, to throw off the chains holding them back, to unite Sanctuary to protect it from being conquered by the Prime Evils Mephisto and his unseen-in-this-game brothers Baal and Diablo. The game tries to make her message compelling. However, at the same time, she also encourages her followers to murder anyone opposed to her, starting with any priests of the light, then anyone who refuses her embrace. She’s a creature of hatred and deception and, as bad as Inarius acts, is infinitely more evil than he is. I understand how some people could play this game and want an ending which doesn’t end with her as the final boss, but I think that it was inevitable. After all, her true goal is to become a Prime Evil and take over the world of Sanctuary while killing anyone who opposes her. That’s not a message any decent person should be supporting. Want to stop Prime Evils from taking over? You don’t need Lilith, only our inexplicably superpowered protagonist, after all.

So, I think that some of the criticism of this game is off-base; Lilith’s role as the main villain is appropriate. She is the most evil figure in this story, responsible for countless deaths and doesn’t feel bad about that at all. But despite this, there feels like a dichotomy between her words and her actions. The problem here is the games’ writing. At every point in the plot more could have been done to improve the quality of the script, but it wasn’t. Lilith could have been written more consistently and better, but she wasn’t. I understand that the excuse for her inconsistent sometimes-pretending-to-be-nice attitude is “it’s her power of deception in action”, but it’s just not written well enough for that explanation to entirely work. Lilith and Mephisto are evil, but while the character works, Lilith seems like a missed opportunity because she could have been a pretty interesting character but instead ends up somewhat generic due to Blizzard’s lacking writing skills these years. It’s too bad, but that’s what Blizzard is now, mediocre at best at writing a story, too focused on overly detailed nonsensical explanations for plot excuses to continue the violence and war of the story and not enough on finding actual good writers to tell their stories.

The Horadrim and the Main Plot

And on that note, I return to the small group who serve as the protagonists of this story, your character and the Horadrim. The Horadrim in this game are three: Lorath, who previously appeared in the third game as a younger man; Donan, who is an old rival of Lorath’s; and a young woman Neyrelle who you meet early in the game. She becomes an apprentice of theirs during the adventure.

In the first few chapters of the game, a different one of them is focused on in each chapter. Chapter One, in a Russian-style winter forest area, introduces Lorath but the ending focuses on Neyrelle. She’s quite annoying here. Her mother was lured to the side of evil by Lilith promising her truths about the world. You end up having to kill her mother, though Neyrelle tries hard to save her and the games’ main character goes along with that for way too long — I don’t think an actual person would have done some of the things you do in this chapter- – it was impossible. I mentioned this chapter in the first article not positively, and for good reason. The dungeon at the end goes very far into imagery of Hell, too, it’s kind of disturbing.

Chapter 2 is about Donan and his doomed son. It is set in a Celtic zone. As I said in the first article, I think this chapter is much better written than the first. Donan’s relationship with his son, and his depression that lasts through to the end of the game after his son dies because of a demonic attack to take the crystal with a demon in it hidden under a fortress his son was in, is compelling. Donan cares, but he cares too much and it holds him back. He can’t move on. For imagery, this is the least disturbing one in the game.

Chapter three returns to Lorath. This chapter starts in a rocky wasteland inhabited by Central Asian-style nomads, but the chapter only takes you through maybe half of this area before it moves on and ends in the fourth area, the desert. It’s about Lorath and his drinking problems as the games’ narrator voice and comedy relief, I guess. It’s alright. The plot here goes fully back into focusing on the scale of the devastation that Lilith is leaving in her wake in somewhat disturbing ways, but that’s to be expected at this point.

After chapter 3 the group all unite, and you’re travelling with Lorath, Donan, Neyrelle, and a shaman woman for a while as well. At this point in the game though the chapter boundaries become murky, and I kept being confused… when did chapter three end and when did chapter four begin? I honestly have no idea, it felt like some random quest in chapter 3 changed its name to chapter 4 without me even noticing until a while later. If it had a boss I don’t remember it as anything special, and the chapter isn’t only in one zone. I really do not understand, were they rushed? Why doesn’t each zone get a full section of the story? The first two areas get full attention, but the other three do not. Play just the story and you’ll find yourself exploring less of each area than the one before, though actually area four, the desert, is the one you go through the least of by far; you only explore one zone of this desert in the story, the rest is left entirely untouched by the plot. You only visit it in the postgame or if you make non-plot-related wanderings.
Anyway, after chapter 3 ends in the desert, chapter 4 is also in that same desert zone, then it goes into area five, the marsh. This is when you travel with the shaman and visit the Tree. Again, the depiction of the shamanist religion is much more positive than the depiction of not-actually-Christianity. I know this is odd to say about a creepy tree with dried heads hanging off of it, but it’s true. I understand how it ended up being written this way but I’m some people will be annoyed by this. I think it’s stereotyped, somewhat questionably so.

At some point here chapter 4 becomes chapter 5, though again I don’t know when that happened. The first two chapters have very strong delineation and end with boss fights and a trip to a new place, there is no question when they end. This is not at all the case for chapters three through five and it makes the game feel unfinished. I know I finished this game almost a month ago, but even right after finishing the game I didn’t know exactly when chapters four or five started. Anyway, chapter five has the final events with the assault on Hell and such, which I discussed above when talking about Inarius and Lilith. It’s not very well written to say the least, but it’s an ending, I guess. The villains are defeated. Sure, a bunch of the good guys are dead — the church is decimated and Donan dies in an INCREDIBLY stupid and pointless way right near the end, I won’t spoil it because it’s so dumb it must be seen to be believed — but at least the villains are defeated… not that that means much in THIS setting with how demons just keep coming back. But that’s a problem for the expansion or sequel. Oh, I must note, Donan is black, so they killed off the black major character but not the asian or white ones [Neyrelle and Lorath]. Of course.

Following that, the conclusion of the game has a very stupid sequel hook. Neyrelle, for reasons that are incredibly poorly explained and I would call a plot hole the game uses as a sequel hook, decides to run off with the crystal that has Mephisto in it. I’m sure she knows better, she’s sure to end up corrupted and evil. She was strongly for putting Mephisto in the crystal and not Lilith for reasons that seemed to make sense at the time — he is the greater threat being a Prime Evil, after all — but who knows, maybe she’s actually evil and has a plan we will learn about in the future? If not this is a definite plot hole, she knows how dangerous those crystals are from everything learned during the story, and left with it anyway for who knows what reason.

And with that, the game ends with your character and Lorath wondering what they should do next. Go wander around and kill demons. Going by the story of the first season, I’m not expecting the seasonal content to actually continue the plot much, that is for the expansion packs. I hope they are better written than this game was.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the vast majority of this article is about something relatively unimportant to most of Diablo IV, its story. Blizzard did a fantastic job with the great graphics that do a very good job of being similar to Diablo II’s style but higher fidelity, the just about perfect controls, the well-tuned combat, the skill system with lots of customizability, various weapon attachments and affixes and such, and so much more. The game plays fantasticly and is a lot of fun to play. I am still playing this game sometimes for a reason, it’s quite good. I was just playing this game today and had a good time. Running around, fighting monsters, trying new skill builds, getting items, and repeating this process is very addictive and well designed. This is one of the best action-RPGs I’ve played in some time.

However, the story? The story is a disappointing, half-baked-at-best mess. The characters are a mixed bag of way more misses than hits, there are way too many questionable stereotypes that come up in the plot, the ending’s very poorly thought through, and more. Both the heroes and villains are poorly written to the point of sometimes not making sense. The game is set in a very Christian-inspired monotheistic world but they decided that instead of an unseen God (if there is one in this setting it is never mentioned) the people here would worship an excessively flawed angel who they blindly obey anyway. The villains are quite evil, but aren’t very well written either most of the time, a lot of their decisions make little sense. And on and on, the story if this game is pretty poor.

Of course, most game stories are poor. This is not a medium full of well-written deep narratives, to say the least; quite the opposite. I am okay with that, I have always strongly believed that in a game, gameplay matters a lot more than story does. However, when you put this much effort into a story and it ends up this bad, I think that needs to be discussed. This is my contribution to that discussion.

Despite that, if I was to grade Diablo IV, it’s a pretty good game, I give it an A grade. The strengths outweigh the weaknesses, just don’t get invested in the story… or your characters. Remember, you need to make new ones for every season and all.

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Diablo IV Impressions (And How it Compares to Diablo II / DII Remastered)

Introduction

 

Diablo IV, Blizzard’s latest title, released last month, and like a lot of people I bought it right after its release. As the title suggests, I am playing the game on Xbox Series X. Pre-release the game had two public tests, though, and I played both of those on PC, so I have tried the game on both PC and console. It runs great on my PC, but a lot of the game clearly was designed for a television more than a monitor and I decided I’d rather play on my big TV than one of my mid-sized computer monitors (and no, with my setup I cannot easily just output the computer to the TV), so I got the game for xbox. Plus, I like having physical media and this got me a physical copy of the game.

Diablo IV is an overhead-isometric action-RPG. As in previous Diablo games you cannot control the camera, it stays at a preset distance and angle. You run around, kill lots of enemies with your abilities, collect items by the score, do quests, follow the often-depressing story, and then kill more things. The game has an open world to explore, though you can ignore the open nature of the world if you want to just follow the primary quest path and play areas in order. Really, the only difference between this game and Diablo II, world design wise, is having connections between the areas instead of having each as a fully disconnected space. There are only a few connections between each area, so that isn’t as different as it may sound. I am quite fine with the results, they work. The primary goal is to find better items for your characters. I don’t care that much about collecting loot, though, so that isn’t much of a draw for me. I do like exploring the map and wiping out the numerous evil minions with by characters’ abilities, and that’s enough to keep me interested if the gameplay is good. This games’ gameplay is, spoilers, definitely good, so I keep coming back to this game and will continue to do so.

Right now, I am in the third act of the story. My character is a level 49 Sorceress, playing in World Tier II (that is, the second difficulty level of four). I’ve been taking my time exploring, so I am not finished with the story yet and am not in the postgame. I hear that the Sorcerer class is weak in the postgame, which is unfortunate, but where I am now I’m still strong. In fact, while the game seemed pretty hard early on, something changed around level 40 and the game got significantly easier. I went from dying a lot at lower levels to now pretty much not dying at all. Given everything I’ve heard I know this will not last, but it does make me question this games’ difficulty balance; shouldn’t a game get more difficult as you go along, instead of starting out harder then getting easy before finally getting harder again much later? That would make a lot more sense than what I’m finding in this game. Oh well. But anyway, I should talk about the game from the beginning.

Please note, most of my past experience with Diablo games comes from Diablo II, both in its original form — I got Diablo II when it was new — and in its much more recent Remastered release. I have played some of the third game and a little of the first one, but I’ll be comparing DIV to DII and DIIR in this article. I know many more recent series fans focus more on comparisons to Diablo III, but I didn’t like that game much at all so I won’t be doing that. Fortunately this game is dramatically better than the third one was.

Graphics and Performance

 

As I said, I haven’t bought Diablo IV for the PC. I did play both betas on PC though, so I have experience with that version. From the betas, the PC version runs great. My computer was pretty nice when built but is dated now — it’s an Intel 7700K CPU with a GeForce 960 GPU. I do have 32GB system RAM, still a pretty decent amount, but still, the graphics card particularly is dated. Despite this, Diablo IV runs great at medium graphical settings, it had no issues at all. At high settings it mostly ran fine, but struggled at times with large numbers of enemies on screen.

On Xbox Series X it looks as good as the high settings, runs at a higher resolution since I have a 4K TV but don’t have a 4K or higher resolution computer monitor, and runs with no issues, so I think getting it on console was the right choice. If you buy it on PC though, know that like usual Blizzard did a great job of making the game run well on lower-end hardware like my graphics card. Overwatch 2 similarly runs flawlessly. The only real issue with the game on PC is that some text and the item names are in a very bland, huge font which looks quite outsized when you’re sitting right in front of a monitor. They seem to have been sized for TV viewing, not monitor. Ah well.

Returning to the version I’m playing now, though, on the XSX, the game looks fantastic. Diablo IV has great graphics and art design with a dark fantasy look highly reminiscent of Diablo II but modernized. I love Diablo II’s graphical style so this is a great thing, I love that they got rid of Diablo III’s Warcraft-style art design. Sure, Warcraft’s cartoony style looks great, but the two series are different and should be different. This is a fantastic looking game and the visuals regularly impress me. Each area looks distinct and the enemies and characters all look as good as they can given the overhead camera. Environments vary, from snowy forests to deserts, cities to disturbing scenes from Hell, and it’s all done with great visual design and style.

I should note, this is a very M-rated game in terms of violent imagery. That is to be expected for a Diablo game, but even so some stuff like the hellscapes may disturb some people. On the other hand though there is no nudity and zero sexual content in this game. It may even be a bit less suggestive than the original version of Diablo II, in fact. The M rating is exclusively for violence. That’s about what you expect from an American game, heh. It’s more violent than that game was for sure though, largely due to the improved graphics. Compared to the most recent past release in the series, Diablo II Remastered, this game has slightly better graphics and more costume variety since there are more equipment slots now — you now have separate lower body and upper body armor. It also brings back a nice feature from, uh, I think World of Warcraft, called Transmog, which allows you to show any armor piece you want as the one that appears to be equipped, regardless of the one that actually is. This is pretty nice and adds to your ability to make your character look as you want.

On another note, much like Diablo II Remastered’s 3D mode, the screen rarely gets as dark as it does in the original Diablo II. Night in original DII is very dark, with a completely black screen outside of the fairly small visible circle. Both the Remastered 3d mode and DIV instead just dim the screen, so you can still pretty much see everything but it’s a little darker. This game is like the latter of those two options. That’s okay, but does perhaps reduce the scaryness sometimes. I kind of miss the very limited visibility at night or in the dark, but it is what it is. There is one enemy attack effect that mostly removes your vision, that’s kind of neat.

Controls

 

Control-wise, the gamepad controls are good. You move with the left stick and activate abilities with three of the case buttons and three of the shoulder buttons. The fourth face button uses an evade roll, and the fourth shoulder button uses a heal. You start with only one ability button open, and somewhat slowly unlock the other five as you play the early hours of the game. The controls work well once you get used to them. The keyboard and mouse controls are also fine, with the same number of abilities but mapped to mouse and keyboard buttons now, but as usual for Diablo games you have to click on the edge of the screen constantly to move, which I’ve always hated. With a gamepad you can just hold the stick to move, which is much easier. On PC, you can go back and forth between keyboard/mouse and gamepad, and the on-screen button labels will change on the fly depending on which control option you touch an input on. That’s a nice feature.

Diablo IV and Diablo II Remastered both allow you to equip six skills to buttons on the gamepad when using gamepad controls. With mouse and keyboard, two actions go on the mouse and the rest on keyboard hotkeys, unless you have a mouse with extra buttons of course. However, in some ways Diablo IV has worse controls than Diablo II Remastered, because while that game has a modifier key to give you a second set of skills to equip, doubling the number of skills you can use without having to change your bindings, Diablo IV has nothing of the sort. You can equip six skills at a time in this game and that’s it. Each class only has a few dozen skills, so you don’t NEED more than six, but it would be nice since the last game had it. Ah well. Another thing missing from Diablo IV is an alternate weapon equipment set. Diablo II lets you have two different equipment loadouts you can switch between with a button, but no such thing exists in this game, you have one equip and to change you’ll need to go into the menu and change weapons. That’s unfortunate.

Other than those relatively minor issues, though, on the whole there isn’t a lot to say about the controls because they work great. Control is responsive, and while once in a while I get hit for what seems like unfair reasons due to input lag or something, those occurrences are rare. Diablo IV feels great to play. I wish you could have more skills equipped at once, access to a second set of six mapping spots like DIIR has would be nice, but this works well enough.

Story

 

I’m covering story here because I want to save the best, the gameplay, for last. Story? This game has a story, and they tried to tell an interesting tale, but so far I agree with the consensus I’ve seen online that this games’ story is disappointing. One of the worst parts of the story is right at the beginning, as the first section of the game, which serves as a tutorial and introduction, has numerous overlong cutscenes with too little gameplay in between each one. Sure, as always from Blizard the fully CGI cutscenes look fantastic and the in-game engine cutscenes look pretty good too, but there isn’t anywhere near enough gameplay in between them to keep me interested in this part of the game. They had too much setup to cover at the beginning, I guess, but should have come up with a way of telling it that actually let you play the game more, instead of starting with a lot of overlong, tedious cutscenes.

Of course, if the story was great perhaps I would mind less, but as I said… it’s not. This game’s story, particularly in the first chapter, is a very post-World of Warcraft Blizzard story. They try to tell depressingly moving tales of characters in the games’ world of Sanctuary falling for demonic lies and destroying themselves and fellow humans of theirs, but most of the time it doesn’t really land. Some characters are pretty annoying, most of the writing is cliche and predictable, most of the characters do not act like people but instead like characters in a mediocre MMO… eh, it’s not great. I did like the story in Act II a lot more than that in Act I, though. It’s a more concise chapter without the bloat of the first one, and I like the characters more too. The chapter II boss was oddly quite easy — I beat it first try — but perhaps I’m over-leveled? There are huge amounts of side activiites to do in this game, do they expect you to just follow the main path first and leave the many sidequests and dungeons for later? I really don’t know. It’s hard to know what level you are supposed to be on for things because the game scales most enemies to be similar to your level.

Anyway, beyond the often-iffy writing and the not always interesting characters, my other complaint about the story in Diablo IV is about how hopelessly dark everything is. I mean, I know that all Diablo games are like this, but they really emphasize it here. The power of evil is everywhere, in the demon Lilith who is the main face of the evil forces in the game, to the innumerable lesser demons filling the world, to the other evil powers out there. While the humans try to cling to belief in good powers, where are they? A few angels exist in this series, but they rarely make an appearance and even when they do they’re not exactly friendly to humans. They are’t enemies either, just not exactly friendly. I should note, that while the Diablo games use the words angels and demons, this game is not set in a definitely monotheistic world; the setting, Sanctuary, is an original creation. If there is a single god in charge that god is never mentioned, only the hosts of angels and demons. That is both good and bad. The bad side of this is that it’s kind of a shame because most Western fantasy RPGs are set in polytheistic worlds, so a more actually medieval monotheistic one would be interesting since monotheistic Christianity’s very important role in society is one of the most important defining elements of the Middle Ages. On the good side, the backstory of this world is interesting and morally complex. This games’ plot goes into the backstory of Sanctuary in more detail than previous games so I can’t say much without spoilers, but the setting has a great war between angles and demons in other planes. This world, Sanctuary, was created by an angel and a demon together, so it’s kind of caught in the middle… supposedly. In effect mostly it’s just invaded by massive armies of demons over and over while the angels do little. It’s extremely imbalanced between the sides. For a game mostly about fighting demons I understand why this is, I do not also want to have to fight angels. But the game isn’t exactly about good versus evil, either, because the angelic forces of good are also quite morally flawed. Uh, or the like one angel in this game is, you don’t see any others. What the other angels think I have no idea.

Basically what I’m saying is that the story of this game is a good example of what storytelling in this time has become: the old stories of good and evil are no more. In their place are stories of grey and black morality, of deeply flawed characters on both sides. I’m not sure if ANY of the major characters here are actually good, other than maybe some of the human characters. Okay, people are flawed, so this makes sense. I am flawed, everyone is flawed. But there IS good out there, and even though most of the plot of this game works fine, of evil forces trying to control this world, I wish that there was an actual clear good force out there organizing the resistance against them. But instead it’s left to you to be that force. Given how poorly that turned out in previous Diablo games, I doubt very much that this is going to end all that well. The other humans take this as encuragement to either surrender to evil or focus on the good aspects of their nature and fight back on their own, which is what your character does, but that leads into another issue…

So, your character. Videogame characters are usually significantly stronger than everyone else, and this game is no exception. You start out weak, but eventually become an incredibly powerful figure. You can kill armies of demons with a wave of your fingertips, warp from place to place with magic in a way no other human in the game can do, and so much more… and the story doesn’t really ever acknowledge this. For example, the town portals and warps are there to save the player the tedium of walking everywhere, and for that they are great, but it is odd when you see NPCs in some small side town talking about how hard it is to get to the far away capital of their area when I’m thinking… like, just walk over to the warp circle over there and wrap to town, you’ll be there in ten seconds. But they can’t do that and the game doesn’t acknowledge it. This is normal for videogames, certainly, but the “everything is super hopeless” tone here emphasizes the issue more so than usual, I think. It’s similar with your character’s extreme power. How are the forces of evil actually so inevitably powerful when you can literally wipe them out by the dozen? I know, as soon as you go to the next area all enemies respawn in the previous zone, that’s how it works in videogames, but in a more realistic place someone this absurdly powerful would completely break that power balance, when one person can wipe out most of the demons on their own how are demons actually a serious threat? And again I know, there are plot excuses for this late in the game in every Diablo title, including your link to Lilith explained in the beginning of the game and that it is nearly impossible it is to actually kill Prime Evil demons for real and such, but I still think it’s worth mentioning. There is strong tonal dissonance here, more so than Diablo II. Regular enemies feel more threatening in that game and the story has a different, though certainly also very dark, tone. As I’d expect from pre-WoW Blizzard, DII has better writing. Also the warps don’t go between towns, just from the town to points in the wilderness and dungeons and such.

So, overall, Diablo IV has an uneven, mediocre story with subpar, post-World of Warcraft Blizzard writing and a setting too focused on showing the power of evil and the flaws of good. There are interesting elements to this story but most of them are ultimately not handled all that well. It’s too bad. Still, some parts of the story are interesting, so it’s not ALL bad. But if you want to skip all the cutscenes and just go around wiping out demons I don’t blame you, that’s the strength of this game, not the story.

Character Creation and Nomenclature

 

Diablo IV launched with five classes: Barbarian, Rogue, Sorcerer, Druid, and Necromancer. Unlike the first two Diablo games, this time you can fully create a character and choose a class, instead of choosing a pre-created character with a preset class as those games did. It’s nice that you have a lot more freedom in character creation this time, but beyond now being able to play as any class as either a male or female character, something not possible before, not much customization was added. You can change your characters’ skin and hair color, add tattoos to your characters’ body from a variety of patterns available, adjust facial hair — which for females only adjusts eyebrows, you cannot have a bearded woman — and … well, that’s about it. You cannot change your height, hair style, or anything like that. You can’t change your characters’ voice either, the male one has a male voice and the female one a female voice. Given the overhead perspective I understand not having a height change option since it won’t look all that different anyway, but some other options really should have been here, this is as minimal as a character creator can get. I like that there is some character creation options but Diablo IV left me wishing for more choices.

Diablo IV does make one change in its character creator that you’re seeing more and more often now, though: it removes the words “male” and “female”. You just click on the character you want, with no text saying which is which. The game’s story or NPCs will never refer to your character by their sex either. Nintendo did something similar in Splatoons 2 and 3, where instead of the “choose male or female” of the first game it says “choose your style” before picking the obviously male character or the obviously female one, with similarly limited customization to Diablo IV beyond that. I know that the politics of gender are quite fraught at right now, but is this really a change that is enough to satisfy everyone? I doubt that. I mean, I know that some on the right were somehow annoyed by Splatoon 2’s change, but still, it’s the most minimal change a company could do. After all, the games still have binary gender. That’s normal in games, where each character model needs to be hand-designed so having more than that would be significantly more work, but plenty of other games have a lot more customization than this game has. I’d think that things like that matter more than whether a game is using the words male and female or not… but whatever, removing the words is fine, I’m just interested that they did it.

To complain about something extremely common in games, though, the terms used for classes and costume pieces are all either neutral or masculine. For the class names, the one with an issue is Sorcerer, since the female form Sorceress is still commonly used. It is good to remove gendered terms from professions, but this is one which is gendered. If they wanted to keep the name and not find something more neutral, which refers to Diablo II’s Soreceress class, deciding “and we’ll use just the male form for either gender” is kind of annoying. A lot of fans, me included, call their female sorcerer sorceress. Similarly all armor pieces were probably named for the male version of the outfit. Most of the time this doesn’t matter, but sometimes it does; for instance a female sorcerer’s “heavy pants” is a skirt. I get it, having different names would be much harder, but it would be nice if terms that work equally could be found. This game does not do that.

(How does my favorite online RPG, Guild Wars 1 (2005), fare at this? It uses the names of the genders (which I have no position on either way); character creation has minimal customization, though you do have a height slider so it’s got that on Diablo IV; it has class names that are mostly neutral except for one which kind of isn’t, Monk (though the term monk can be gender-neutral in certain cases, it usually isn’t in English); and for item names… it’s pretty similar to Diablo IV overall. Guild Wars has standardized item naming. The first half of an item name is its set name, and the second part is the piece. The lower body piece names vary from class to class but most classes use the somewhat generic term “leggings”, in a few cases “hose”, or, for monks, “pants”. Some end up awkwardly named, female elementalist (and other classes) skirts are leggings apparently and that one female monk skirt is dubbed pants, but at least the issue isn’t with that item name in specific since they have standardized names, it’s with the naming system. Overall I’d say that Guild Wars is probably a bit better than Diablo IV at gender-neutral naming, or at worst they’re even, despite it being a much older game.)

Gameplay – Skills and Builds

 

To return to one of the first things I said in this article, Diablo IV gameplay is all about running around and killing things with a variety of different combat abilities, weapons, and skills. How you kill things will vary depending on your class, but the results are the same, demons dead by the dozen. The game likes big numbers, and your damage numbers, stat point numbers, health numbers, and everything else get large quickly. Where at level 20 in Diablo II you’re probably doing like 10 damage per hit, or less, at a similar level in this game you get numbers many times larger and they just go up from there. When it comes to numbers like this bigger isn’t better, but people like large numbers so Blizz significantly increased the size of the numbers. Okay. I kind of miss D&D-inspired sane numbers in RPGs instead of everything doing hundreds of damage per hit, but that’s not how it is anymore clearly. A level 42 Diablo II character of mine’s main weapon is a spear that does … 25-116 damage. In Diablo IV numbers that would be a much lower level weapon than that.

Most of the time in Diablo IV, you will be fighting with the games’ skills. Each of the five classes has an entirely separate set of skills that you will unlock the ability to put points in and equip as you level up. In addition to that, the game has several universal abilities, such as the dodge-roll, which is on its own timer that starts refilling after you use a dodge, and the healing potion button. I will describe those other two functions later, this section focuses on the skills you choose. In short though, the healing system in this game is kind of strange as it uses non-refillable potions that drop in the world. They are not something you can buy . As for the dodge-roll, it’s a powerful and useful ability which makes combat much more dynamic. With it you can dodge powerful attacks, get out of the way, and more. The combat in the game is designed around its use, which is mostly good but has some downsides. Both of these abilities have both good and bad sides to them.

The equippable skills, however, are pretty much all good. Indeed, the skills in this game are a significant strength of Diablo IV. This game has a nicely large skill tree with a good number of skills, both active and passive, available to each of the five classes. There are many RPGs which simplify skill selection, by not having any kind of skill selection as lots of classic JRPGs do or by tying skills to equipment instead of fully letting the player put a build together freely, but Diablo IV doesn’t do that. You do not get stat points to distribute after each level as you do in Diablo II, but you still do get a skill point after every level up that you can distribute to skills on a series of hubs that form up the skill tree. Each hub is named for the kinds of skills you find on it, such as Basic, Core, Defense, and more. Each has several different active combat skills and passive abilities for each of your classes’ different ability types. The Basic skills cost no magic to use so they are your basic attacks. Everything above that does cast magic to use. Magic regenerates, but slowly enough that you need to use it judiciously. Additionally, as I said each class has three different categories of abilities you can put the points into, a classic Diablo staple. With the sorceress for example you have fire, ice, and lightning abilities, just like Diablo II, and can choose which skills you wish to get points in and use. After level 50 you unlock a second skill upgrade board that gives you stat bonuses, as well. It’s a great system that is mostly implemented well.

Re-speccing your stat points is much harder than it should be, but even so I love that this game has a full, user-customizable skill system with a lot of different abilities and upgrade points. There are plenty of balance problems in Diablo IV to be sure, as there are in most games with deep, user-customizable skill systems, and it’s unfortunate that apparently the sorcerer/ess gets the worst of it in the lategame level 70+ higher difficulty level play, but even so I’d take this every time over some game with limited customization. There is a lot more customization in this games’ skill system than Diablo III had, so I am very thankful that Blizzard backed down from that games’ console-style simplification and went back to a more complex, and dramatically more interesting, skill system here. The results are great.

To be clear though, Diablo IV is no Guild Wars; you have only dozens of skills per class, not hundreds. There is plenty of skill customization you can do here, but the games’ skill system is middle-grade in complexity. In that way it’s very much a Diablo game, since the Diablo series has always been simpler than some other RPGs, going for very well-polished but relatively simple design over the most complex systems. Diablo II had almost no side-quests, for example, unlike most action-RPGs of its day. So, in Diablo IV you will reach the bottom of the regular skill tree relatively early in the game, after which you only have the added bonuses of that second board to keep you interested. I kind of wish that there was a bit more to the skill tree, but with three different sets of abilities on the tree for each class you can always go back and try the other skills if you’ve focused on only one with your build. As you go to higher difficulties you will need to re-adjust your skill choices as well.

Overall, in Diablo IV you can equip six skills at a time, will have points in more skills than that, and will have more skills than that that you don’t have points in. Skill builds matter, both for where to put your skill points and which skills to equip, and different builds will have very different effectiveness. I could look up the best builds but have always preferred to just play a game with the skills I want to use even if it’s not the most effective unless something in-game forces me to go look up builds. So far in Diablo IV I haven’t had to do that much, it just works. Fantastic stuff. Sure, I hope they continue working on game balance — it could use some — but even so I love it.

Inventory, Death, and Healing in Diablo II

 

After the skill system, probably the next most important topic to cover is this games’ inventory system and its somewhat odd healing mechanic. It’s not something I have seen before. First, though, I would like to describe Diablo II’s inventory system, because inventory management is one of the core elements that makes Diablo games what they are so comparing these differences is important. In the first two Diablo games, you healed with potions. You had to spend a large amount of inventory space in your very, very limited-size inventories on healing potions. You did get increasingly large belts which can hold more and more potions, but even the final 16-item belt still doesn’t hold anywhere near as many health and mana potions as a player will need. Additionally, you needed to have two two-block books in your inventory for your town portal and identify books. Diablo I and II have very limited inventory size both because of how much space you must devote to potions and also because weapons take up large amounts of inventory space. Weapons can take up to eight tiles of inventory space, and that’s a lot. In Diablo II, your main inventory is 40 blocks. Remembering that many items are multiple blocks, after the various charms and potions are there you have very little space for item pickups. You also have a 4-tile Horadric Cube which has 12 spaces in it that I used as added inventory. Your storage chest in the original version of Diablo II is a single 8×6 space. And that’s all you got. There were no added storage panes, no easy way to transfer items from one character to another, nothing. Third party applications did exist to allow item transfer, so you could save some items to “mule” characters, but each one only added as much space as your first.

Diablo II Remastered makes the change of adding dramatically more storage space in the storage chest. Your character’s inventory space is the same, but the storage chest now has four panes of 10×10 tiles each. Three of the panes are shared between all characters you create, so transfer to other characters, either for them to use it or for storing extra stuff, is easy. One pane is exclusive to each character. It’s such a nice improvement, it makes playing the game a lot less frustrating since you don’t need to leave nearly as many interesting items behind! Even so, Diablo II is a game where you need to judge which equipment that you get while exploring is worth going back to town to store or keep. After all the potions and books and charms and such fill my inventory, in Diablo II I often only have space for a few item pickups. Grab a few things, use a town portal — and this uses up a scroll in that town portal book that you will need to buy a replacement for — go sell or store the stuff, and portal back to where you were to proceed. Often I found myself having to drop random stuff all over just in order to free up space for some valuable items I wanted to go back and sell.

Also, Diablo II, in either release, has you store money in your storage chest.  The storage chest has separate money totals for money you are storing only your character and for shared money between your characters.  Money in your storage chest is yours for good.  Money on your character, however, is all lost upon death.  Bank your money!  In addition to that, when you die in Diablo II, you drop ALL equipped items where you died, lose some experience in higher difficulties, are sent back to the town of the current act, your equipment’s durability takes a hit you will need to repair later once you re-collect it, and need to get back to where you died to pick your stuff up again from the last warp portal.  It’s quite a punishment.

Diablo III has a much larger inventory, and limits item size to only two tiles maximum now. It also has a larger storage chest.  Diablos III and IV are pretty similar in inventory space though, that’s one of the few things Diablo III did well.

Gameplay – Death, Healing, and Inventory

 

Diablo IV so far has probably less storage space than III, but it has dramatically more than II original and a lot more than II Remastered. Because in Diablo IV, all inventory items take up only one space, and healing potions do not take up inventory space. Key quest items and crafting materials for the games’ simple upgrade and potion system also do not go into your inventory, they have separate storage. Gems do go in your inventory, but they can stack now, something not present in DII, up to 50 in a stack. The 33 spaces of character inventory that you get are plenty for lots of stuff… or they would be if some areas didn’t drop such ridiculous amounts of loot! Seriously, this game gives you so much stuff that items mostly lose any meaning. Why should I care about almost any of this stuff when I’m just going to get like twenty items dumped on me around the corner, anyway? The game does help players out by putting a single number on most items which tells you its overall item power, a common feature in loot games of the past decade or so, but you can’t look only at those numbers once you’ve gotten farther into the game. The many modifiers and stat boosts are very important and you’ll need to consider each item swap carefully. As much as I don’t really care about items, it is fun to consider the equipment and think about which ones I should equip and which not to depending on their different bonuses.

Even if you do get overwhelmed in items, though, you can freely warp back to the nearest major city with the press of a button at any time you aren’t in combat. Town portals are unlimited now. You don’t need to identify any items anymore either, unlike Diablo II, all items come automatically identified. In the cities you can sell the items, store the good ones in your storage chest, upgrade your items, add gems to items to add modifiers to them, and a lot more. The game has a lot of fairly powerful inventory systems to allow you to change and improve inventory item modifiers. It’s mostly well thought through stuff which adds a fair amount to the game. You can choose to destroy high end equipment if you want to take the special bonuses, called affects, out of that item and add that affect to a different item, for example. It’s good stuff. You can also try to get different modifiers on an items, add gem slots to items that don’t have them, and more. I’m sure people who spend a lot more time than me min-maxing their equipment will take issue with elements of the item modification systems, but to me they seem mostly good. My only criticism, other than that the game gives you way too much loot, is that some of the stuff you need for things such as adding a gem slot to an item are quite rare crafting materials. Ah well.

The healing system is also significantly changed, for better and worse. In Diablo IV, you do not need to buy healing or mana potions. In the abstract, this is great! I’ve always disliked the “do you have enough health and mana potions to survive?” school of game design, it feels like lazy limitations aimed at artificially creating difficulty that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Great games can use that design, but in the abstract I prefer a system where each encounter can be designed for the player at full strength, challenging you to play your best. This game is like that, but its implementation has its own serious issues. Now mana recharges somewhat quickly, but has a low maximum. Your basic skills use no mana, as explained earlier, so most players will use those as regular attacks and the higher level skills that do use mana more sparingly, once it recharges. This system works well, though it is odd to have magic spells that somehow don’t use any magic… DII isn’t like that, if you’re out of mana use a potion or start using your regular weapon. DIV’s system here is probably overall better. Even though free-magic spells is odd I like the quick recharge mana system, it makes combat more strategic and interesting.

However, when it comes to healing your health, I have some major issues with Diablo IV. Potions are mapped to a button, and you have a limited stock of them, at first four, though you will expand this number a bit as you play. Each time you use a potion one stock is used up. The potions cannot be bought and do not regenerate over time. You cannot pick them up if your stock is full. Instead, they are dropped by enemies, environmental objects you can break, or chests. These drops will eventually disappear, so if you trigger a potion at the wrong time it may be gone when you needed it in a fight in that area later. This is annoying design. Bosses, which as I will explain can be very overly long in this game since boss fights are a much stronger focus of this game than previous Diablo titles, have markers on their health bars which note at which points in the fight they will drop a healing potion or potions. You need to try to avoid taking more than one potions’ worth of damage until those points in the fight if you want to defeat the boss. This is an interesting challenge, but it can lead to extreme frustration when I was dying over and over and over to a boss that I just couldn’t quite defeat with the number of potions I was given. In the early parts of the game though most of the particularly challenging bosses are optional, the main-path stuff is not as hard.

As for death, in Diablo IV, almost none of the death penalties from Diablo II return. You can’t even put money in storage this time, you have to carry all of it with you. I guess you can’t share it between characters then. Having few penalties for dying is to be expected, modern games usually punish you much less for dying than older ones like DII do. When you die you respawn at some point near where you died with absolutely no penalties other than a 10% decrease to the durability of all equipped items. If items run out of durability you will need to go back to a blacksmith to repair them. This is the only part of DII’s death penalty that returns in IV. The other penalty is that if you are in a boss fight, you will need to restart it once you return. I understand why the rest of those penalties were removed, but it does make dying trivial most of the time, which hurts the game a bit when compared to its predecessor… except in boss fights, where trying to stay alive is still quite important because of how long boss fights can take.

Gameplay – The Overworld, Dungeons, and Strongholds – Exploration and Difficulty

 

Diablo IV has a fairly strong difficulty disparity between the different elements of the game design. This game has an overworld which is interconnected, made up of towns, regular exploration areas, and some challenging stronghold zones, as well as small and large dungeons scattered around that world. The regular overworld is usually easy. Even in the early parts of the game when I was the weakest and died the most, I still was only very rarely dying in the regular overworld areas. Overworld foes aren’t very strong and you usually should be able to win in those encounters. You also can run into other human players randomly in the overworld, though this game has no in-game chat at all so you cannot interact with them in any way. I’m sure that makes keeping the community not horribly toxic much easier, but it raises as many problems as it solves, you can’t communicate with teammates in-game and finding other people to party with is quite difficult if you don’t know people outside of the game you want to play with. Very much unlike classic Diablos I and II, the overworld in this game is entirely pre-designed, it is not randomly generated. This means that even though this games’ world does not feel much larger than Diablo II’s, it is probably somewhat similar in size, perhaps slightly larger at most, this world is more interesting to explore since everything was laid out by hand. I love Diablo II, but the randomly generated maps usually end up being just giant boxes I’m running along the walls of. Overall I prefer this, though it will lead to reduced replay value since everything is going to be in the same place every time. You won’t have that ‘I know I’ve played the game before, but where will stuff be this time? It could be pretty different…’ element that Diablos I and II have. Diablo IV adds replay value through the promise of seasonal content that will change the world while those seasons run and through the much larger number of optional dungeons and sidequests this game has, though, and that’s a lot. I like how many sidequests this game has, DII always felt like it had far too few. I like the larger number of NPCs as well, and the various towns of different sizes scattered around the world. I like the variety of smaller towns and their differences, it adds to the game. Some areas even have NPCs in combat zones, which is interesting.

In contrast to the overworld, dungeons and strongholds are instanced for each player separately. As a result you will need to conquer them on your own, or with a party if you randomly group with others ingame or know people you want to play with. Diablo IV Dungeons probably do have a random generation element, they feel like they are put together from premade chunks. They could be hand-made from premade pieces, though, I’m not certain. There are a relatively small number of dungeon graphical tilesets that you will see reused over and over. Dungeons are completely separate areas from the main world. There are three kinds of dungeons: small, large, and story. Story dungeons are large dungeons that you go through as a part of the plot. Small dungeons are little cellars or small caves. They are marked with a small opening on the ground. Each contains a single room with an enemy challenge in it, with treasure rewards once you win. Full dungeons are marked by a large open door along a wall surface. They are long, usually challenging missions with multiple phases, culminating with an often-difficult bossfight. How hard dungeons are will vary greatly though, some are easier than others. Lastly story dungeons are similar to the other ones but will have plot-relevant cutscenes and, so far in the game at least, are easier than optional dungeons. Both the dungeons and their bosses do not reach the challenge level of the stronghold or optional dungeon bosses. Maybe they want you to go through the story first, then go back for dungeons? I’m not sure. In the postgame you unlock even harder versions of the dungeons called Nightmare Dungeons, though I haven’t gotten to those yet.

In both the overworld and dungeons, you will frequently see random event battles appear. In these encounters you fight waves of foes at a single location for a while because of some scenario that plays out, from defending merchants to activating a pillar. These draw from very limited pools of event types and give you item rewards once completed. Overworld events and dungeon events are different, but the idea is the same in both cases. I like the concept here, having random events happen at various spots in the world makes the game a bit more dynamic, but there are so few different event types that after not many hours at all you will see the game repeating events, and from then on it’s the same few types over… and over… and over. Sure, the enemies get harder as you gain levels, but there are only a few event types. I think that for this concept to work better the game really needed a greater variety of event types, it’s too repetitive.

Strongholds, on the other hand, are dungeon-style areas in the main world, and they are the same every time, apart from level-based scaling of course. They do not have random events, but instead each tells a story of how that area fell to evil. Each area of the world has three strongholds, and the stronghold quests are interesting and fun. The strongholds are pretty cool, though unfortunately you can only clear each one once with a character, as once completed they change into something different. Often, following your victory, humans retake the place from the monsters and move back in. Beating some even unlocks waypoints to warp to. However, they can be quite challenging at times. I found the Kor Dragan stronghold boss particularly hard, it took me dozens of tries and many level-ups before I finally beat that guy. The other two strongholds in the first area were much, MUCH easier for me.

I have discussed bosses a lot in this article, but that is because of how much focus Blizzard put on boss fights in Diablo IV. In Diablo II, most bosses are stronger regular enemies. They aren’t anything special, they’re just some regular foe with more health and abilities. Many are randomly generated. Dungeons don’t always have a traditional boss at the end, a room full of a bunch of enemies is more common. There are a few major boss fights, but they are rare. In this game, though, every dungeon and stronghold ends with a big, hand-designed, not randomized boss fight. These bosses get a large health bar put on screen with those markers I mentioned telling you when you get healing drops. Their difficulty varies from the easier bosses of most of the story to the harder ones of some optional dungeons, but either way pre-designed boss fights are a huge part of this game. I like the challenge that these unique foes bring, it’s certainly more varied than what DII had, but must emphasize dislike how obnoxiously long their health bars are, wearing them down can be tedious.

As I said, dungeons and strongholds are also generally much more challenging than the overworld around them, though how much harder they are seems quite uneven, and nothing in-game rates dungeons or strongholds by how hard they are. Difficulty ratings on the dungeons and strongholds would be really helpful, the game should have them. I need to repeat that I think that this games’ difficulty balance is not very good. And worse, often you won’t know how hard one is until you’ve gotten quite far into it, because bosses in this game can be a major ordeal. A boss could be really hard, or it could be a moderate challenge I beat first try, I rarely know until I get there. Bosses have long, LONG health bars that take an extensive amount of time to chip down. As mentioned, if you die you will need to start the fight over from the beginning. Of course, your character class and build will have an effect on how hard any one boss is so there may not be an absolute way to rank dungeon difficulty, but even so the game could have done something. Instead, with all level markers on zones basically identical since again everything in this game is scaled to your level, you won’t know until you try.

You frequently will face large numbers of enemies at a time, too. Diablo games have always had you facing large crowds of foes, and this game is no exception, but Blizzard took advantage of the increasing power of technology to have probably even more foes than before and to make combat more dynamic and action-focused. As I mentioned in short earlier the dodge-roll really changes the game from earlier Diablo titles, as it allows you to quickly move around the battlefield. Of course Diablo II had its teleport and such for some classes, and this game has that as well, but this is different. For insance, you will want to watch for when an enemy is about to shoot at you or do a strong attack so that you can dodge-roll out of the way of the attack. This is a gameplay element entirely absent from classic Diablo, but critical here.

With the games’ dodge-roll move the game feels like a bullet-hell game at times, particulerly in the harder bossfights. The game will mark areas on the floor which the enemy’s next attack is going to affect for some projectile attacks. Get out of those areas. The dodge roll has a timer, so you can only use it at first once before waiting for a fairly long timer until you can roll again. I often found myself needing to dodge attacks but I couldn’t, I’d used it several seconds ago, I didn’t have boots with multiple charges yet, and it has a 5 second recharge. Some boots will add additional dodges before you have to wait for their meter to refill, which is extremely useful. Your characters’ defensive skills from their skill tree are also important to your survival. You will need to dodge and weave skillfully to avoid the waves of bullet patterns enemy bosses shoot out. And yes, this game has actual bullet patterns, sometimes marked on the floor with “stay out of this area, attack commencing” warning area indicators. It can get overwhelming at times, particularly when facing these bosses when the game is hard, which, again, for me so far was in the earlier part of the game (and the later part by all accounts). Once you get more and more powerful abilities, going through the crowds of enemies and destroying them with your abilities is fun stuff, so long as you can stay alive. Manage your defensive skills, dodge rolls, and heals well.


Microtransactions

Yes, despite being a $70 retail title, this game has some microtransactions. While everything you buy from merchants in the main game are items you buy with in-game currency, which you should have more than enough of given how many items you get that you can sell and how few of the items shopkeepers sell are actually worth buying — I don’t think I’ve bought any items yet — there is also a real money shop in the pause menu. Here you can buy other items, which I believe are cosmetic only, for real money only. It’s a modern game and a modern Blizzard game, of course it has microtransactions. I’m just glad they aren’t much, much worse,as they are in Overwatch 2…

Each quarterly season will have a lot of free content, but each does also add a paid DLC Battle Pass you can buy for added stuff. The contents of the battle pass for the first season have not been announced yet so we don’t know exactly how it will work or how mandatory it’ll be. I very much hope that you do not need to buy it, I probably don’t want to. I don’t like the way battle passes work, they require you to play obnoxious amounts of a game to unlock the things you paid for in the pass, and you’ve got a time limit for how long you have to get the stuff too. It pushes both hours played and money to the developer to the detriment of player happiness, because who likes grinding for experience and such? Not me.


Conclusion

 

In conclusion, while I’m only playing it off and on — I got the game pretty much at release and am “only” at level 49, after all — when I do play Diablo IV I often get hooked for hours, and it’s kept me coming back in a way that most games do not. That is one of the highest marks of praise you can give a game. This game is far from perfect, most obviously its game balance is highly suspect, but despite that Diablo IV is a fantastic game and one of the best of its kind. Diablo IV is a fantastic experience with great graphics, near-perfect controls, mostly good game design, a fantastic sense of atmosphere, a good amount of variety, a great, highly customizable skill system, thousands of demons to kill, and a promise of lots of content to come from future seasons and expansion packs. I’m not the biggest fan of a game world that is fully scaled to your level, it removes some of the satisfaction of a game when earlier areas stay just as hard later on as they were the first time, but it does mean that you can return to earlier areas not not find them super easy so there is that benefit to this design. The game has issues with late-game content — apparently after level 70 content thins out badly in the release game — but I’d say that’s fine, that’s where season content and the full expansions that are in development can fill in after all. For a launch game this is in extremely good shape, with huge amounts of content to play through and no major bugs I’ve seen. The story is flawed and somewhat disappointing in ways that Blizzard games all have been for almost two decades now, and that is a real downside, but apart from that, unless you don’t want to play a game that focuses this strongly on evil demonic forces (and I would understand that), I highly recommend it. It’s great.

However, is it better than Diablo II (Remastered)? I know that nostalgia is a factor here but right now I would say no. First, DII has a better story and better music. In terms of art design both are fantastic. Diablo IV is great, and is better than II in some ways — you have dramatically more inventory space, more ways to modify your equipment with removing the affects and such, more dynamic combat with the dodge mechanic, significantly more unique and dramatic hand-designed boss fights, and a hand-designed world instead of random generated generic walls everywhere. Its magic system with quick refill is probably better than “drain those potions”, too. However, the healing system is weird in some not great ways with how limited healing potion drops can be in some fights. Those boss fights drag on way too long, for sure. Battles against regular enemies of your level are not as challenging as they are in Diablo II because the challenge focus is more on bosses, but I much prefer a game with more even difficulty between bosses and regular levels instead of “the levels are easy and the bosses hard”. Also, for a hand-designed overworld, they made some odd choices. Some of the waypoints are quite close together, and others far apart. I would think that it’d be more balanced in terms of how far you have to go from the towns to get to places, but it isn’t. The dungeons feel randomly generated too, whether or not they are, and they are a huge part of the game. And perhaps most importantly, the way combat focuses heavily on dodging attacks and not just using your skills to defeat the enemies isn’t always something I enjoy; I’m not a Dark Souls fan, after all. It’s mostly good but sometimes having to dodge constantly is annoying. Still, combat is fun in both games but for somewhat different reasons. In some ways this design is better than DII and in other ways it is worse, but if I had to choose I’d probably go with the classic style by a hair.

Overall, Diablo IV is a fantastic action-RPG well worth buying. It has some strengths and some weaknesses, but it’s one of the best games in its genre I have played. It does a great job at modernizing Diablo’s design while bringing back key elements of Diablo that were missing from the third game, such as build complexity and that distinctive Diablo visual style. It’s a must-play for any action-RPG fan. If you want you could wait a while before playing this game if you haven’t played it yet, though. After all, the game will be getting more content in the future. I am glad I got it at launch though, it’s great fun. This game is a definite game of the year contender.

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