Thursday, November 18, 2021

Top Ten Nintendo GameCube Games

Today is the 20th anniversary of the GameCube, Nintendo's proud, purple console's North American launch. While the console didn't sell to its full potential (and that's somewhat of an understatement), it did lay down the foundation for the publisher's future consoles, starting with the revolutionary Wii, dipping severely with the failure that was the Wii U, and then rebounding in a remarkable way with the Switch.

SPC celebrates this auspicious occasion with a look at ten of the best games that launched on Nintendo's colorful lunch box-like console. From titles that changed the gaming world forever to games that simply brought lots of joy into those who played them, this list of ten games shows why the GameCube absolutely rocked.

After checking out these picks (including the honorable mentions at the tail end), be sure to let the community know which ten GameCube games you'd include in such a list.

10) Luigi's Mansion

No doubt Nintendo fans were both disappointed and stunned when the tradition of a Mario game launching alongside a new Nintendo console didn't happen. We're no stranger to this now, but back then, it was a big deal. Instead, Mario fans saw the portly plumber's brother, usually in Mario's shadow, take on the role of hero with Luigi's Mansion. More than just a tech demo to show off the technological capabilities of the GameCube hardware and the console's controller, Luigi's Mansion was a stellar game, offering a ghost-busting adventure through a multi-floor haunted house equally full of puzzles to solve as it was infested with paranormal activity! 

While the game ends up being a bit of a brief one compared to a more meaty Mario adventure, Luigi's Mansion would go on to have Luigi see lengthier adventures, including his most recent starring role in the Switch's Luigi's Mansion 3, what I think is one of the Switch's best exclusives, apart from being a 10-million seller. We can thank the not-so-humble beginnings of this success story in huge part to Luigi's lovely GameCube launch title.

9) Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

With the hotness that is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe still burning rubber on sales charts around the globe, it goes to show that Mario Kart as a series is as beloved as ever. That entry introduced anti-gravity sections of tracks to it, and the Mario Kart series has never been shy about introducing new mechanics to the foundation that Super Mario Kart originally laid down. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! remains one of my favorite entries in the series (and really, there isn't a poor entry to be seen) due to its bold and innovative dual-kart mechanic. 

Two players rode in the same kart, one steering and one utilizing items. Both could switch positions on the fly. It made for an interesting and incredibly entertaining mechanic that hasn't really been copied aside from Crash Tag Team Racing, and that was a bit of an altered version of the mechanic. Regardless, with a great lineup of tracks, an impressive roster of characters, and magnificent multiplayer mayhem, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! brings double the amount of fun. 

8) Animal Crossing

Going back to playing the original Animal Crossing, an updated version of the Japan-only Nintendo 64 game Animal Forest, brings with it a ton of nostalgia for me. When the game launched in 2002, I played daily for literally a year, and after the fact, if I missed a day, I'd feel tremendous guilt from doing so. I would have dared someone to have said, "It's just a game" to me back then. Animal Crossing was the entry that would set the building blocks of the series, growing and expanding to what we know now with the mega-hit Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Switch. While the original Animal Crossing is quite dated nowadays, it does possess plenty of uniqueness to it, such as NES games to collect (and play), villagers with much more attitude (if you're into that sort of thing), and a simple elegance that worked well for the premiere entry in the series.

7) Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II

From Factor 5 came this amazing GameCube launch title that still looks absolutely jaw-dropping. You really have to wonder what kind of tricks and sorcery Factor 5 used to get Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II to look so phenomenal. Plus, it was just a well crafted game, putting players in the cockpits of X-Wings, Y-Wings, Snowspeeders, and more within and outside of battles from the original trilogy. From Bespin to the Battle of Hoth, the environments and battlefields lending themselves to epic dogfights and confrontations made for one heck of a way to kick off the GameCube's launch. The sequel, Rebel Strike, also on the GameCube, would even allow two players to play through the entire Rogue Leader campaign together exclusively in co-op. Though the added on-foot missions brought down the experience, being a bit too ambitious for their own good.

6) Soul Calibur II

The soul still burned, and after Sega parted ways with its console development and manufacturing, the Soul Calibur series went multiplatform and in a big way. Each console that received the game: PlayStation, Xbox, and of course the GameCube, saw an exclusive character added to the roster of this excellent 3D arena fighter. While PlayStation received Heihachi of Tekken fame, and Xbox received comic book anti-hero Spawn, GameCube owners got the best end of this deal with the inclusion of The Legend of Zelda's Link, donning his Ocarina of Time tunic and attire. One could argue this addition alone makes the GameCube version the most worthwhile of the trio. Regardless, Soul Calibur II remains one of the more enjoyable entries in the Soul Calibur series, now having released six numbered entries, and stands as one of the best games within the GameCube's incredibly awesome library. 

5) The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Although I would argue that the Wii U's HD remaster of Link's ocean-traversing adventure stands (or would it be "sails"?) as the definitive version, there's no doubting how great of a game the original The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker truly was and still is, for that matter. Though sailing the ocean waves of the Great Sea is more taxing than it needs to be, the late-game Triforce Quest is a pacing-stopper, and other issues that were remedied with the Wii U version exist, the brilliance and beauty of the Great Sea is immense to this day through the GameCube original's wondrous cel-shaded glory. This of course was hated by the most ardent and passionate of fans upon reveal back at a Spaceworld showcase. The meltdowns and madness over "Celda" have since died down, offering a perspective for most that The Wind Waker shows Link at his most expressive, most charming, and just most darned adorableness, too.

4) Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

The sequel to the Nintendo 64's Paper Mario unfolded into a galactic adventure against the dreaded X-Nauts, complete with outrageous humor, memorable characters, incredible environments to explore, and an updated timing-based battle system that fans of the Paper Mario series up until that time had grown to expect and love. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door delivered RPG action, hilarious moments by the minute, and enough charm to make it a much beloved classic for both Mario and RPG fans alike. While I do enjoy the modern takes on the Paper Mario series, it's a shame that Nintendo hasn't returned to the classic Paper Mario formula since The Thousand-Year Door. At least we do have two games that take on the classic-style mantle, right?

3) Resident Evil 4

Now released on pretty much every platform under the sun (including even a VR version!), it can't be understated how much of an event for GameCube owners Resident Evil 4 truly was. It was a massive and magnificent entry in the Resident Evil series that was specifically built for Nintendo console owners, and it did NOT disappoint. It made this writer a fan of the franchise, and breathed new life into Resident Evil as a whole. 

The three acts of Resident Evil 4 (the village, the castle, and the island) brought with them an immense amount of action, moments of suspense and horror, and plenty of thrills and chills in equal measure to make for one intense and pretty much perfectly paced game. Resident Evil 4 still remains one of my favorite games to date, and I've purchased it on more platforms than I'd care to realize. But, that says more to the excellent quality of the game. Few titles can be called this, but Resident Evil 4 is a definite masterpiece.

2) Metroid Prime

Speaking of masterpieces, Metroid Prime's excellence came from an unlikely place: a studio plagued with disorganization and mismanagement prior to Nintendo stepping in and sort of salvaging it. Retro Studios is now one of Nintendo's premier Western studios, and the start to the developer's rise in Nintendo's ranks can be traced right to Metroid Prime. Creating a Metroid game, a series that had been stuck to 2D for the longest time, and moving it to the third dimension would be a most impossible task for many developers. However, with Nintendo's help and guidance, Retro Studios not only managed to make it work, but also make one of the series' best entries, one of the GameCube's greatest titles, and one of my favorite games of all time. Not bad for a first go-round with Nintendo, was it!

Between the immersive environments absolutely dripping and oozing with intense atmosphere, the brilliant combat and shooting mechanics, and the masterful approach to level design showcased by the developers, Retro Studios absolutely SMASHED expectations. A truly fantastic game in every aspect, Metroid Prime is a masterclass in how to take a 2D series and retool it into 3D.

1) Super Smash Bros. Melee

Speaking of smashing, we have this launch window title for Nintendo's GameCube: Super Smash Bros. Melee, a game that pits Nintendo's all-star arsenal of characters in a fighting game--one perfect for parties or even competitive play. The facelift that the Smash Bros. series saw between the Nintendo 64 original Super Smash Bros. and Melee is just astounding to me. It can't be understated just how much of a markedly improved sequel from top to bottom Melee was, offering better fighting mechanics, more characters, more stages, more modes, more items, more options, and just more goodness than ever before at the time of its release.

The addition of more compelling single-player content like the awesome Adventure Mode, All-Star Mode, more characters and stages to unlock, and the inclusion of collecting trophies: models of Nintendo characters, places, and more detailing the history of the company. 

Super Smash Bros. Melee still stands a popular game within the Smash Bros. series, even as bigger and arguably better sequels have since released. It's a highly competent and capable fighter for competitive play, offers a wide roster of strategies and combat abilities, and is just to this day, a blast to pop in play, whether you're a serious player or just casually want to smash with your bros. 


Honorable Mentions: F-Zero GX, Super Monkey Ball 2, Super Mario Sunshine, Viewtiful Joe, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Mario Party Superstars (NSW) Review

We did our unpacking on Monday, and now since that is done, it's party time with Mario Party Superstars, SuperPhillip Central's latest review! Let's see how Mario's latest shindig is with this, the SPC review!

An entry that does this party favors.

In 1999, Nintendo and developer Hudson Soft teamed up together to release a new spin-off franchise in the much beloved Mario series. Introducing Mario Party on the Nintendo 64, a virtual board game where players rolled dice to earn coins in order to purchase the most stars by the end of the game. Interspersed between turns was an assortment of wild and wacky mini-games that every player participated in to win coins. 

Mario Party as a series would become an almost annual tradition for Nintendo systems with two more Mario Party games releasing on the Nintendo 64, four entries coming out on the N64's successor, the GameCube, and both numbered and non-mainline entries launching on various other systems. Essentially, every major Nintendo platform got a Mario Party game of some sort. Heck, even the failed e-Reader peripheral from Nintendo for the Game Boy Advance got in on the party action.

Now, after the major, breakout success of Super Mario Party on the Switch, breaking records for the series in a big way, now developer ND Cube (who took over the series with Mario Party 9) has what can be described as a "greatest hits" collection of Mario Party. A collection that is far greater than the rather dud of a party that the 3DS's "Mario Party: The Top 100" ended up being. This is Mario Party Superstars, offering five classic, remixed boards from the Nintendo 64 games, and a collection of over 100 mini-games selected from Mario Party 1-10. 

The flow of Mario Party Superstars harks back to the Nintendo 64 era of the Mario Party series. That makes sense since not only does Superstars borrow its collection of boards from the N64 trilogy of games, but it also features a heavier selection of mini-games from the earlier Mario Parties rather than the later ones. One could easily argue that this is because later Mario Party games relied more heavily on motion controls, which Mario Party Superstars does not include an option for whatsoever.

Reach Toadette with 20 coins to earn a much coveted Power Star.

Regardless, with each of the game's boards, the goal is the same: navigate around the myriad spaces to reach where Toadette is located. If a player has 20 coins (or 10 in some rarer occasions), they can purchase a Power Star from her. Some boards shuffle the location of where Toadette goes after a Star has been collected, while others Toadette remains in the same spot. Each turn players roll a dice block that goes from 1-10 and land on spaces around the boards with varying attributes. Some award coins, while some take them away. Some spaces reward lucky rollers with items, while others can initiate a battle mini-game or Chance Time, where the lander of the space hits a trio of dice block roulettes to determine which player gives what to whom, whether that be coins or worse case scenario: Stars.

Returning from earlier Mario Party games is that of items. Each player can purchase them from special stores around a given board for coins, and these range from adding spaces to a player's roll, slowing down another player, shuffling locations with another player on the board, stealing an item from another player, or being transported directly to the location of the Star. The economy in Mario Party Superstars offers lots of opportunities to earn coins and items due to the immense amount of Lucky Spaces and such, but this only adds to the fun in my book. It doesn't devalue any aspect of the game overall.

After a turn has ended, all four players participate in a mini-game for coins. Most mini-games have a familiar and similar payout of 10 coins for first place, 3 for second, 2 for third, and 0 for last place, but some are coin mini-games where players keep what they grab coin-wise in the mini-games. Depending on what space each player landed on in their turn, the type of mini-game can change from a free-for-all (where all players land on the same colored space) to a team-based mini-game like an even 2-vs-2 or a more skewed 1-vs-3. 

Revenge! In this mini-game, the bonk-ers have become the bonk-ees! 

The mini-games in Mario Party Superstars are all cherrypicked from past Mario Party games, namely the mainline numbered entries from the very first on the N64 to the Wii U's Mario Party 10. Most mini-games demand some level of skill to win (the occasional luck-based one does rear its head in, however, though these make for some hilarious moments, too), but each is easy enough to learn and is accessible enough to let all players enjoy themselves no matter their age or gaming experience. From mini-games where you bump into one another while rolling along bouncy balls, attempting to knock each other off a circular platform, to less stimulating games like carefully counting a cavalcade of parading, passing Goombas, the mini-games on offer are usually quick enough to never outwear their welcome. Well, that's save for a select handful, and these are usually dreaded when they come up in rotation by me.

Even though it's "Hammer Time", you definitely don't want to "stop" here in this mini-game!

Mario Party Superstars sports five unique boards: two from Mario Party with Yoshi's Tropical Island and Peach's Birthday Cake, two from Mario Party 2 with Space Land and Horror Land, and the odd game out, Mario Party 3, with only one represented board: Woody Woods. Each board has its own gimmicks to it. For example, despite its name, Yoshi's Tropical Island actually features two major isles. Both have a selection of spaces to move over, and are connected by two bridges guarded by hulking stone blocks known as Thwomps. Each time a player wishes to cross a bridge, they need to pay a coin toll. Players can raise the toll and set it as high as they can afford it to make it difficult for other players to cross. Meanwhile, stepping on specially marked green spaces results in the Toadette and Bowser's locations being switched, meaning that you can really mess over other players or yourself if you land on the right space at the wrong time. 

Even though it's Yoshi's Tropical Island, Thwomp doesn't play favorites.
Everyone's got to pay the toll to cross.

On the other end of the chaos spectrum with Mario Party Superstars are boards like Horror Land, where day and night passes every few turns, blocking pathways that were accessible during the day but are now unavailable at night and vice versa. Throw in a King Boo who can not only steal coins from all players, but also a single Star from each player (for the right price, of course), and you can have a high amount of havoc and hijinks.

And that's really what Mario Party as a series is known for: havoc and hijinks, and most players wouldn't have it any other way. If you're fine with the fact that the most skilled player doesn't always win, you're sure to have a terrific time. It comes down to a mixture of luck and skill, with sometimes a heavier focus on one over the other. You can do poorly in mini-games, and have your luck turn around with a stolen Star in your favor via Chance Time, or get rewarded via Bonus Stars at the end of the game from getting the best rolls or landing on the most spaces of some type. 

The most exciting part of Mario Party Superstars is that of online play. While Super Mario Party received online play via a late update, it never really cut the mustard in the end. I faced multiple disconnections, and at the same time, it was a bit too little too late, despite being most welcomed as an addition. Conversely with Mario Party Superstars, online play, with friends or random players, is present right out of the box, and overall, it works wonderfully. The game's stickers and stamps that can be used during the board sections of the game are great for communicating (or just grief-ing other players, of course, but *I* wouldn't do that...), and lag is surprisingly uncommon in games. 

Games can be saved and exited after a given turn to be picked up and resumed for later, and if a player exits mid-game, a CPU opponent takes over instead of just killing the game right then and there. Private lobbies can be made for friends, and these allow a lovely amount of customization of the rules. You can choose turn amount, if post-game Bonus Stars are on (and if they follow classic or modern Mario Party Bonus Star rules), and if you want to set a Star handicap for any particular players.

Hit a homer, and knock one (or several, ideally) out of the park in Dinger Derby.

Mario Party Superstars also sports its own series of achievements from completing certain in-game goals, some of which are tougher to obtain than others (especially those online-focused ones), and also its own shop. The shop, where you spend coins earned from participating in games, has a wide assortment of goodies--from stickers to spam with your friends and to total strangers alike, to songs to listen to outside of games, there is no shortage of extra stuff to unlock for players who would like some extended enjoyment out of their Mario Party if somehow just fun with friends and family isn't enough.

Some mini-games force would-be competitors to work together for some interesting dynamics.

There is one sizable issue I do have with Mario Party Superstars. While the five boards on offer are fun to play on, the amount is a bit paltry overall. The fact that Mario Party 3 does not have a second board is a bit of a shame, and it would have been nice to see some boards from later games in the series. Alas, perhaps as DLC or we'll just have to wait for a sequel for that. However, some more boards from Mario Party 1-3 would go a long way in extended the length and fun to be found in this game. 

Mario Party Superstars delivers a supersized party package that really feels like a proper successor to the Mario Party crown after all of this time. While for me, annual releases of the series did make for a dull series, requiring a change to the formula at the time, I'm very glad that ND Cube has returned the Mario Party series to its roots in utterly fantastic fashion. The number of boards is disappointing, and some mini-games chosen are a bit boring and worthy of a head scratch, but all in all, Mario Party Superstars is a bonafide bountiful bash worth celebrating with a few friends, family members, or thanks to online play, complete strangers as well.

[SPC Says: B+]

Monday, November 15, 2021

Unpacking (XBS, XB1, NSW, PC) Review

Unpacking is the next game on the review roster for SPC, and it's not usually the fare covered on the site. Thankfully, this Game Pass title delivered with a delightful and relaxing game. Read more with the SPC review.

Leader of the "Pack"

Moving is an oftentimes stressful and hectic activity to do in the best of circumstances, so it takes some kind of special skill to create a video game that makes the process actually enjoyable. Well, that is exactly what developer Witch Beam has done with Unpacking, a game that focuses on the eponymous activity and turns it into a calming, relaxing game.

Each "level" or year in Unpacking sees you--well--unpacking from a series of cardboard boxes in a new abode, whether it be your starting childhood room, or ending up with a full-blown house in adulthood with partner (and new baby) in tow. While many of the items that you encounter whilst unpacking don't have much of a sentimental value to them (unless our main character really, REALLY finds specific rolls of toilet paper endearing), the items that do have value happen to help tell a story about the unspecific character whose moving you're essentially assisting with. Everything from their occupation, hobbies, and more can be surmised or at least guessed on, which adds to some of the fun in the game. 

You begin Unpacking by unboxing items within your childhood room.

The act and art of unpacking itself in Unpacking is simple and sweet. The left stick provides you with a cursor to move around, which can have its sensitivity altered to your liking, and able to "click" on items to grab them, rotate them, and place them where needed. You can also zoom in and out to your desired depth, allowing you to see all there is to the rooms and objects of which you are interacting with. 

Unpacking is as easy as opening a box, clicking on it, and thus getting the first, predetermined item out of it. Really, Unpacking is a puzzle game as much as it is a zen-like relaxation game. After all of the items have been removed from their boxes and the boxes recycled, you'll see a red, flashing outline around items that are not in their proper rooms or places. 

From there, it's college time. It's our character's first extended time away from home.

It's not always as simple as realizing you can't have a working toaster inside a bathtub (hopefully knowledge that most of you reading this review know), as the game can get very particular about where items needed to be placed. Sometimes it's difficult to decipher what an item actual is, no matter how much you zoom in or out on the object in question. That understandably makes properly placing a particular object a tad difficult. 

Again, starting off in the game, you begin with one room, but by the end, you're unpacking boxes throughout an entire house. Just because a box is in one room doesn't mean all of the items inside belong to that room, as you'll discover in later levels. Some objects need to be turned and placed oh-so-particularly. It's here that Unpacking can be a bit of stress-inducing game at times.

The ease of the cursor-based controls even on consoles is lovely.

Of course, if you're the type who doesn't want any stress whatsoever and wishes to place items willy-nilly, you're able to do so via the game's accessibility options. You can turn on the ability to put items wherever without issue and without them needed to be in specific rooms or spots in said rooms. This is great for artistic endeavors, creativity, and enjoyment (or if you're just wanting a quick run through the game for achievements. No judgment. You do you.).

Unpacking isn't just about unpacking everything and placing things where they need to go: the game also possesses some puzzles in the form of optional tasks and achievements that involve interacting with objects and placing items in specific ways. This reveals unlockable stickers that can be used in your photographs and are a cool collectible by which to aim for on the whole. 

Unlock various stickers from completing a variety of in-game tasks.

On the presentation side of Unpacking, the game sports a colorful pixel art style with isometric angles for each of the rooms you place objects inside. For the most part, items that you assign to shelves, beds, floors, chests, drawers, and more are properly detailed and easy to distinguish between save for a couple of stragglers here and there which provide some occasional and initial confusion. The amount of items and objects presented in Unpacking is amazing, especially because they are so well detailed and lovely on the eyes. Unpacking's presentation is a pleasant one, and this continues with the sound design. The plops and ploops (I made up the latter) sound fantastic and lend to the zen-like feel of the game. Then, you have the soundtrack that is supports the mostly relaxing gameplay. It all meshes together like a well-sorted bedroom with everything properly in its place.

A studio apartment with modern amenities? In THIS economy?

Unpacking succeeds at what it sets out to do: create a calming and zen-like gaming experience for players. Whether you opt to adhere to the game's rules of positioning items or not (which can be turned on or off at any time), you can create and enjoy the game the way you want. As someone who has an admittedly short attention span, I didn't think I would take kindly to the ordinarily painstaking and tedious task of opening up boxes, removing their contents, and placing everything where I deemed they belonged. However, despite there being the periodical bouts of repetition in the overall design, I ended up enjoying my time with Unpacking.

[SPC Says: B]

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl (NSW) Overview Trailer

Ahead of its release this Friday, the pair of Sinnoh region remakes, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl, have received an overview trailer detailing all of the unique and familiar features brought to the games. Both Pokémon games launch this Friday on the Nintendo Switch.