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I took a vacation from my usual Nintendo-centric gaming to play through Portal, a game I'd heard a lot of great things about but had never actually touched. The game was even better than I expected, and its first-person puzzle solving (with light platforming) was wholly satisfying. The core game mechanic, where you use a gun to create portals in order to progress through rooms one at a time, is huge fun. The game is superbly paced and a perfect example of how the combination of overall design, aesthetics, polish, music, writing, and voice acting can turn a fun concept into a completely memorable game. There are several fun moments and surprises along the way, including a great ending, and although some people may complain, I appreciated its brevity.

This is definitely one of the freshest games I've played in a while, and it's surprising to see that the game is almost ten years old. It's rare that a game's mechanics are so fun that I can see how playing through it again would be as much fun as playing it the first time. Fortunately there's Portal 2 to look forward to.

Dive into these Portal links:
- Entry on Wikipedia
- Entry on Steam.
- Entry on Metacritic.
- I played the game on Steam, but the game is also available in the compilation called The Orange Box (for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC).

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I've been working my way through the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, although I'm still pretty baffled as to why there are so many entries in the series. The previous game I'd played was the DS entry, entitled Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!, and next up was Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move, released on the 3DS eShop. The game combines the mechanics of the rest of the series with something new, the path-creating gameplay of the Pipe Mania games (which I played one of a couple of years ago).

Anyway, I feel like I've had my fill of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong type of gameplay, so it's good that this entry shakes things up. The review at NintendoLife and the entry on Wikipedia go into a lot of detail on the various modes, but basically the main modes are a Tetris-like mode where you're given tiles semi-randomly, and a puzzle mode where you have a set number of pieces. Collecting all three medals in each level will take a combination of trial and error and some head-scratching, but although these main modes are enjoyable enough, they're nothing earth-shattering. The other two modes are variations that are distinctly less enjoyable, and there are a handful of pointless mini-games. The game omits the boss level fights from the previous games, but they definitely weren't missed. There's also a level editor with all the usual features (you can download the most popular levels, etc.), but I'd gotten bored of the main gameplay by then and didn't bother exploring the user-created levels much.

There's not a lot to say about the game, really. If you're a huge fan of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong or Pipe Mania games then this clearly you'll like this game, but if you're like me and are not particularly a fan of either then this will be an okay diversion and better than most of the rest of the series, but doesn't amount to much more than that. It looks like the next game in the series goes back to the tired formula of the previous games, which I'm not really looking forward to. We'll have to see how it turns out.

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I don't have much interest in sports games in general, but Nintendo fanboy that I am I feel obligated to work my way through all Nintendo games, including the fairly primitive early Game Boy efforts such as Tennis. Apparently it was one of the system's launch titles in North America, and it seems that a fair number of people have some amount of nostalgia for it.

I'd played the NES Tennis game a while back, but the Game Boy version is pretty much completely different, aside from the fact it's a video game rendition of the actual sport and it features Mario as the referee. The controls in Game Boy Tennis are much more involved. In the NES version you only had two types of shots: the A button for a regular shot and the B button for a lob. The Game Boy version multiplies each of these by three, depending on if you're holding the up button, down button, or neither while you're pressing the A or B buttons. Serves also have those three variations, and all these options make the game much more active, but also more complicated. Instead of relying on timing your hits to influence the angle of the ball, the game seems to emphasize getting your opponent to stand close or far from the net, and then hitting a far or close shot to mess him up.

All in all the game was more enjoyable than I expected, although it's sort of a toss-up (get it? haha) for me as to whether I prefer this one or the NES version. I didn't bother trying to master the higher levels of difficulty (there are four levels of difficulty total), since in those modes the ball whizzes by so fast that I assume you'd have to go through a lot of trial and error to win. I doubt I'll be playing this again anytime soon, but it wasn't a complete waste of time, even for someone like me who's not really into sports games. It's been a while since I'd played a Game Boy game, and I still haven't gotten into the Mario sports games much at all, but hopefully I'll make some more progress on both those fronts before too long.

Some fast-paced Game Boy Tennis links:
- Longplay of the highest difficulty level
- Review on NintendoLife of the 3DS eShop rerelease
- Entry on Wikipedia (although it mostly just covers the NES version)
- Entry at nindb.net

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I must have been in the mood for some NES gaming, because even though I had just played Ice Climber, the next game I picked up was Yoshi's Cookie. The game came during a wave of puzzle games riding on the huge success of Tetris, although many games, like its predecessor, Yoshi, were pretty forgettable.

Yoshi's Cookie has a different feel than many of the puzzle games that came before it in that pieces don't just drop down from the top. Instead pieces come from the top and the side, and your goal is to clear horizontal and vertical lines by making them all of one type. You press a button to select the row or column, and left or right to shift the pieces. In a way this makes the game feel like a predecessor of the fantastic Puzzle League, aka Tetris Attack, aka Panel de Pon series. In this game, though, the game doesn't have much depth at all. There is a combo system whereby you can have a chain reaction of pieces clearing, but there's rarely any time or opportunity to set up chains like this. Each piece type has a meter and if you fill it up you get a Yoshi head piece, which acts as a wildcard. Filling up the meter also doesn't really play into the actual strategy much, although the wildcards do help.

As with other games of its type, you can choose the round number, speed, and the type of background music. Each round is comprised of 10 stages, but other than the increasing speed, the strategy to playing the game feels exactly the same whether you're on round 1 or round 10. Clearing out the majority of the board doesn't take much effort, but clearing out the last few pieces does get to be a chore as you wait for the piece you need to drop. After beating a round you get a little animated cutscene, and after beating the highest selectable round you're given a code that lets you select rounds higher than 10. This new mode features some different and entertaining visuals, with the added wrinkle that there's a blocking piece that can only be matched with a wildcard. Other than that things still feel the same and I had zero motivation to keep playing.

I think I must be getting near to the end of the Nintendo-skinned puzzle games, of which Dr. Mario is clearly near the top (despite its high difficulty in setting up combo), although for me Tetris Attack will always be at the top of that list. This isn't a bad puzzle game, especially for its time, but playing it nowadays it's not particularly fun or memorable. The two player mode actually looks to more interesting than most, though. In that mode you get to pick which attack you want to send over to your opponent, although its possible that if you mistime it you'll end up attacking yourself. With the core mechanics being so banal, though, I doubt I'll be trying that out anytime soon.

Not too bland Yoshi's Cookie links:
- Entry on Wikipedia
- Review of the Wii Virtual Console release, at NintendoLife.
- Entry at nindb.net

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I was in the mood for some old school action gaming, and so I finally got back into Ice Climber on the original NES. The game was one of the system's launch titles in North America, and it got a huge boost in attention due to the out-of-nowhere inclusion of its two characters amongst the playable roster of the classic and still hugely popular Super Smash Bros. Melee. I was also reminded that I needed to revisit the game after having played NES Remix a couple months ago, which includes challenges excerpted from the game.

I have vague memories of playing the game as a kid, and even then the controls felt stiff, especially compared to the smoothness of the controls of games that followed it, like the original Super Mario Bros.. The gameplay, which consists of jumping to break open paths, climbing, and attacking and dodging enemies, feels unique, but it doesn't take long before things feel super repetitive. The game has a number of hazards, including moving platforms, ground that pushes you in a particular direction, and icicles that fall from above, with the best of them definitely being the sunglasses and swimsuit-wearing polar bear who forces you to move higher if you spend too much time without moving upwards. There are also cute little abominable snowmen (seals in the original Japanese version) that help or hinder (depending on your current need) by filling in empty spaces in the floors. (I tend to feel a little bad about defeating them since they definitely help more than they hinder overall.)

There are a good number of elements to the game, but somehow all the different combinations of them that appear in the different levels just don't feel different enough to a modern gamer. Still, this is par for the course for this type of early game, which definitely feels like it would be more suited to an arcade than playing at home. There are 32 unique levels, and the game has a handy level select, which is nice. It's not too hard to get through any of the levels using up all the chances provided, but getting far on a single credit and earning a high score is much more of a challenge.

Despite some of the worst jumping mechanics ever, the game is a fun blast from the classic NES past. The design is great and features colorful characters and enemies and a fun bonus round with some catchy music. Getting to the top of the mountain and catching the condor's claws is always satisfying, and I can imagine that the two-player mode is also an entertaining combination of fun and frustration. The mechanics aren't as enjoyable as its peers, such as Balloon Fight or the original Mario Bros. game, so it never gets that addictive, but it's definitely still fun overall. The game has been rereleased on numerous platforms, the 3DS version has a nice bonus in the form of download play, whereby a player with the game can send a temporary copy to a friend in order to play the two player mode. Not my favorite of the classic NES games, but this was a nice trip down memory lane.

Not too rough Ice Climber links:
- Entry on Wikipedia. Apparently "in some countries of Europe, the console game was bundled with the NES, increasing the game's familiarity outside Japan." Interesting.
- NintendoLife has several reviews of the game. Here's their review of the 3DS eShop version.
- Entry at strategywiki.org
- Some footage, from Coyote12101
- Random cute fan artwork

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