Although I'm a "hardcore" gamer, I did enjoy the original Wii Sports quite a lot when I first played it as well as as on subsequent revisits. Wii Sports Club is basically a Wii U remake of the game, with its main additions being online play and the incorporation of the more-accurate Wii Motion Plus controllers (and for the Golf game and the catching portion of the Baseball game, the gamepad). There's also the addition of locale-specific "clubs" you can join (e.g. one for each state in the US, etc.) whose rank goes up and down based on online matches, but this seemed fairly pointless and I didn't spend much time with it.

As with Wii Sports I ended up spending most of my time playing the Tennis game, specifically the training modes. I definitely appreciated that the three training modes are different than the original game and include more variety. Here as in the other games I had to adjust to the more-sensitive Wii Motion Plus controllers. Supposedly the gameplay is more true to life with the new controllers, but after playing a fair amount I'm not sure that for someone who doesn't play the real sports like me that the differences are worth the hassle. The main issue isn't the increased sensitivity in the controls, but with Tennis anyway I ended up having to pause to recalibrate the controller pretty much in between every play of the training modes. If I were playing more casually and weren't going for a high score it wouldn't have been such a big deal, but without calibrating, the controller would easily get confused about simple things like if I was trying to do a forehand or a backhand shot, let alone the angle of it. Wii Sports Resort on Wii also had used Wii Motion Plus and I don't remember it requiring this near-constant recalibration, and this along with the so-laggy-it's-almost-unplayable online mode makes me think that Nintendo was much less involved than Namco Bandai, the game's co-developer, with this release.

Despite this problem, the Tennis modes are still fun overall. It's still oddly relaxing and hypnotic to play against the computer and return volley after volley, and the "thwack" sound that comes from the controller's speaker on each successful return is still extremely satisfying. I tried out all the other sports, and although Bowling and Baseball continue to not interest me at all. Golf looks like the game that would most benefit from the new controller. Boxing is much more deliberate here, unlike the "flail-fest" that the game was in the original Wii Sports.

Next time I pick this up I'll probably check out Boxing more closely, but overall the whole package definitely feels non-essential and definitely not Nintendo's best revisit of a classic. Nintendo tried out something new in the pricing of this game, where they released each sport as a separate download for $10 and provided the option to buy a 24-hour pass for a single sport for $2. The latter seems supremely pointless, and I'm glad I held out for the retail release of the combined collection on a single disc.

Remade Wii Sports Club links:
- Official site
- Page on Miiverse
- Review on NintendoLife
- Entry on Wikipedia

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Between this site and my old one I hit my 400th video game review not too long ago, so although it's a little redundant and can be inferred from my posts, I thought I would highlight my favorite games of all time throughout this year, which is the tenth year that I've been keeping a video game blog (how time flies...). My list of favorites are limited to the games that I've written about on my blog, and so there are many classics that no doubt deserve a place but that I just haven't gotten around to replaying (not to mention all the worthy games out there that I haven't found the time to play for the first time!).

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that my list is dominated by Nintendo games as I'm a Nintendo fanboy, or that it's dominated by Nintendo's top franchises, but to keep things a little more interesting I thought I'd start with one of two posts that feature a more varied assortment of favorites. I definitely don't think there's any point in trying to try to rank the games since they're all so excellent in different ways, so this list is chronological.

Last caveat: I'm purposely calling this list my "Favorite Games of All Time" as opposed to "Best Games of All Time", because I recognize that the list is purely subjective and that some games on my list are not likely to be on anyone else's list (or very few people's anyway). My main criterion now and always for games deserving of being on my list are those that give me that special "tingle" of pure bliss, so although there are many games that I "enjoy" and give me the occasional tingle, a much smaller fraction give me that special tingle continuously and aren't weighed down by long boring sections or other problems.

So without further ado, here's the first list! Enjoy! ;)


Intergalactic Video Game Academy's Favorite Games of All Time: Part 1

Space Invaders (Arcade, 1978). Starting things off is the original Space Invaders. Some of the games on my list earn a spot partly in appreciation of how significant they are historically, and Space Invaders falls into that camp. But the game also has to hold up today to make it onto my list, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed my time with this game. What I liked most about Space Invaders is that it makes the most of its constraints and includes multiple phases within each level. In my review I said, "Even though I didn't get through many levels, the game has a nice balance of making you choose to go offensive (shoot at the aliens) or defensive (dodge or hide behind one of the barriers) and forcing you to constantly be on the move or risk the aliens reaching the 'Earth', i.e. the bottom of the screen." The game's simple black and white pixel graphics are timeless and classic, and it packs a lot of groundbreaking creativity into a small package.
Galaga (Arcade, 1981; NES, 1985). In my post about Space Invaders I'd said, "For me Galaga is still the classic arcade shoot 'em up". Galaga was a game that I grew up playing in the arcade, and even nostalgia aside it really fulfills the promise of Space Invaders with wholly satisfying enemy variety and challenge. Letting your ship get captured, and winning it back and doubling your firepower (this game's equivalent of Contra's spread gun) is pure video game magic. My post was about the NES version, which to me is a wholly acceptable port, rather than the arcade version, but both versions are a ton of fun.
Contra (Arcade, 1987; NES, 1988). Speaking of Contra... Haha. The game is one of my favorites of all time, and not just because I played it a lot on the NES when I was a kid. The game has some of the funnest co-op around, and its legendary challenge is offset by the huge boost in number of lives that the Konami code provides. Getting the spread gun is guaranteed to make you feel like a bad@$$, and is one of the classic moments in video gaming. To me this is the run 'n gun classic that all others in the genre must be compared to.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES, 1995). I've played a lot of platformers over the years, so by the time I got to Super Mario World 2 I was pretty jaded. The game's core mechanic, in which you're babysitting Baby Mario, is a unique hook, as is its art style, but in my original post I wrote, "The variety in the stages felt improved to such a degree that it reminded me of SMB3, extremely high praise indeed. Although SMW2 starts off a bit slow (the first two worlds, of six, don’t have much character) and had me feeling like i was going through the motions of playing through yet another platformer, pretty soon the game had surprises around every corner and had me completely hooked." Variety is one of the keys to a great platformer, but that doesn't just mean introducing new enemies and elements every second, but using the set in surprising and clever ways, which SMW2 does (and makes it look so easy!). The game (and subsequent series') emphasis on collectathons brings the experience down very slightly for me, but this still easily earns a place on my list.
Mario Kart 64 (N64, 1996). I've played all of the Mario Kart games, but Mario Kart 64 remains my favorite of the series. In my retrospective of the series from a few years ago I wrote: Mario Kart 64 is really what made me become a fan of the series. Although it’s prob. among the easiest in the series, like many sequels it took the core concept and greatly expanded it. The tracks went from the almost-completely flat tracks of Super Mario Kart to ones that had bumps, jumps, and steeply angled twists and turns, along with many more moving obstacles to contend with including penguins, cars and trucks, boulders, a train, and a giant Yoshi egg. the game introduced new types of course locations that have been built upon ever since, including farm, desert, stadium, jungle, and city tracks. the balance of items feels 'just right', and i think many people would agree that it’s one of the standout entries in the series, if not the best." 'Nuff said! ;)

Samba de Amigo (DC, 2000; Wii, 2008). Years before Guitar Hero and Wii, there was Samba de Amigo on Dreamcast. I played the game on Wii, but apparently the Dreamcast version is just as good. In my post about the Wii version I wrote, "The wackiness of the design and the fact that you’re frickin’ shaking your Wiimotes like maracas to Spanish songs and random songs like 'Groove is in the Heart' thrown in makes this classic, totally stupid fun." If ever there were a game to put a smile on your face (and of everyone in the nearby vicinity), this is it.

Wario Land 3 (GBC, 2000). I still haven't quite finished all of the Wario Land games, but I was surprised at how inventive Wario Land 3 was. At the time I wrote, "It has so many of the things I’ve found to be key factors in really successful platformers, including colorful and varied locales, fun characters and powerups, tight controls, a smooth progression, and new elements introduced at virtually every turn but all in keeping with the game’s universe. Wario’s Looney-Tunes-esque transformations are as enjoyable as the last game, and he continues to be an endearing anti-hero." The way that the stages and map continually evolve also feels fresh even years since its original release. Definitely a classic that gives even Mario a run for his money.
Pikmin (GCN, 2001) (Post 1 | Post 2). All the games in the Pikmin series provide a rare combination of charm and strategy. The Pikmin themselves are completely adorable, and the variety in the enemy design and the game mechanics themselves are all very satisfying. I know I'm in a minority, but I actually preferred the first Pikmin game to the second (which I still haven't finished). At the time I wrote, "Though the 30 day time limit of the first game can be frustrating, it makes the game much more tense and thus fun." I haven't played enough of Pikmin 3 yet to really have a strong feeling about it, but I'll always have fond memories of exploring the lush, familiar-yet-alien world of the original Pikmin.
Dance Dance Revolution Konamix (PS, 2002). There are tons of Dance Dance Revolution games, but the one I started off with was Dance Dance Revolution Konamix for the original PlayStation (one of the latest games released for that system). After years of being wowed by master DDR dancer-players I would see occasionally in arcades or at video game events, I finally got to see what all the fuss was about and I've gradually built up my own skillz. As with Samba de Amigo it's pretty much impossible to play the game without laughing at yourself (or others if you're playing with a group), and the game was one of the pioneers of video games that are also effective as exercise. A lot of fun, and a game you could spend a lifetime truly mastering.
F-Zero GX (GCN, 2003) (Post 1 | Post 2). I'm not that interested in racing games in general, but I played F-Zero GX obsessively for several months without a break. At the time I wrote, "This is a game that, like Metroid Prime, has so much polish everywhere it just gleams. From the visuals to the music to the tight gameplay, everything is so well developed it really makes every moment a purely pleasurable experience, so much so that even if you crash your last racer at the last millisecond of the last race, just a hair away from getting 1st in the whole cup (as I just did tonight), you don’t really mind too much." At the time I had also wondered, "How in the world is Nintendo going to top this??", and given that the series has pretty much been on hiatus since it may be that they've been pondering the same thing. Another game that I have very fond (although also painful, since the game is hard), memories of.

 

So that's it for this first installment. Four more to go! The next few installments will be more thematic, and so I'll save my favorite assorted games from 2003 on for the last installment. These posts won't be on a regular schedule, but I'll work them in whenever I have a light week of actual reviews. Now in the meantime... back to more gaming and more game reviews!

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I'm a pretty big Fire Emblem fan, but I haven't actually played a game in the series in quite a while. Actually, I haven't played an FE game since Awakening, which I'd enjoyed overall but didn't love. The Fire Emblem Fates games (for 3DS) were clearly based on Awakening, and while I was eager to play through the epic three-part experience I also was a bit guarded about my expectations.

I went with the recommended order, which is to play Birthright first as it's the easier game. The game offsets the fact that it's structured very similarly to Awakening in that you can grind for experience or gold with side battles whenever you want, by making the presentation more different than the alternate, Nohr, path in Conquest. The Oriental aesthetics are a nice change of pace, although they don't really alter the mechanics much since virtually every class in the previous games has its own "Oriental" Fire Emblem Fates analogue. The game really refines the fairly overpowered "Dual System" mechanics of the previous game by separating out offensive "Tag Team" mechanics from defensive "Pair Up" mechanics. It's nice to see a return of the marriage mechanics, and the "My Castle" features, an expansion of the usual between-battle preparation features, provide some nice diversion.

As usual supports between characters are a big draw, and there were quite a few lovable characters this time around. I have to give a shout-out to my personal favorite character, the spacey Setsuna, although she was somewhat weak since her HP and defense are so low. My VIP was definitely Silas, though, who had sky-high defense. It turns out that I used only one of the four Hoshidan royals, but in retrospect I guess that's just as well since I'll probably be able to use them in Revelations. The support conversations in general vary widely in terms of how memorable they are, and it would have been nice to see more of them be more integral to the plot, but the large cast ensures that everyone will find a set of characters that they like. As with Awakening, the large cast means that in a normal playthrough you'll really only get the chance to become familiar with about half the cast, so it'll be fun to play through the game again with completely different character combinations.

Even playing on Hard mode I didn't really need to play around with reclassing or forging, and for better or worse there's not much need to use the children characters, but I suppose on the highest difficulty level these things will become more necessary. As it was, for me (an FE vet), on that mode the game didn't get very difficult until the last few chapters, although Birthright is supposed to be the easier game in general. One of my main complaints about Awakening was that grinding made the game too easy, so it's nice to see that Conquest will provide a more-traditional Fire Emblem experience. The Amiibo integration, while welcome, didn't offer much more than the guest characters mechanic seen in Awakening (i.e. the dialog is minimal), and I'm disappointed the voice actor for Ike was different than the actor in the Smash Bros. series. It's still nice to have these cameos, though.

I played Birthright in a quick blitz, and, unlike my playthrough of Awakening, I'm not going to bother getting all the children or grinding for supports since I'll have the opportunity for some of that in the other two games. The story takes a darker turn near the end which makes it somewhat more memorable, but it was fairly generic overall because the characters don't know anything about why the war is happening in the first place. I'm interested in seeing how things look from the Nohr perspective, and I'm sure a lot of the background will only be revealed in Revelations, which I'm really looking forward to. I'm also looking forward to spending time with the Nohrian cast, who we catch only glimpses of in Birthright, as there seem to be a lot of fun characters in it. I'm going to have to take a little break, though, so I can get on with my real life and not spend all my waking moments playing and reading about Fire Emblem! Let's see how long I can hold out before starting in on Conquest...

Refined Fire Emblem Fates links:
- Official site
- As usual, Serenes Forest is one of the best FE resources online, although their Fates info is still somewhat patchy and in the process of being completed
- Entry at fireemblem.wikia.com
- NintendoLife review
- Iwata Asks interviews (R.I.P.)

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Scribblenauts is a series that began on DS and has led to a fair number of sequels. It got a lot of hype when it was released in the fall of 2009, but as someone who knows more than the average person about "artificial intelligence" and language processing, I was pretty skeptical about how well the game's "22,000+ word vocabulary" claims would succeed in making for a game that was also fun and worthwhile. Unfortunately, even when I take off my "scientist" hat, I found the game to be incredibly frustrating and dull.

I'm apparently not alone in my reaction. The game's reviews were more divisive than usual, with quite a few heavy-hitters such as Nintendo Power and IGN giving the game high scores, while many others giving it low marks. I pretty much completely agreed with The New York Times' review, and they summed it up by calling it "a mostly frustrating, annoying product".

There are several problems with the game. The one cited most often is the frustrating controls, which I agree makes the game unplayable more often than not. Taps are used to select objects as well as move them, and guide your character, and they're often misread: I lost track of the number of times I sent Maxwell, the main character, careening to his death unintentionally. It seems that in subsequent games movement is handled by the control pad rather than the touchscreen.

The other problem people often mention is that there's little motivation to actually make use of more than the tiniest fraction of the game's vocabulary. My main issue with the game, however, is that the range of properties each item has is incredibly small, with most not having any resemblance to their real-life counterparts at all. All the objects are super floaty, and Maxwell can push tanks like they were made out of cardboard. I could summon a cage, but I couldn't actually put anything into it. Wings only let you fly as high as a high jump, and most smaller objects don't let you do much beyond put them inside a container and take them out of a container. There's a mechanic where you can attach two objects together with "glue", but when you're gluing two small objects more often than not trying to move it makes them all come apart. All of this severely limits the game's premise, which is "unlimited creativity" in solving the game's puzzles, most of which are similar anyway, such as "get object from point A to point B". Half the time killing off the obstacle with a gun or whatever was the easiest solution, and as a pacifist I felt this was just another reason for me to dislike the game. I also strongly disliked how many of the puzzles required precise timing, which better controls would certainly help with, but which made the whole experience feel really fiddly.

Basically what it seems to boil down to is that the people who loved the game are the ones who liked thinking up words and then seeing some simulacrum of it appear on the screen. Often these words will be in the game, but what's the point if you can't really do anything with them or if they behave the same as hundreds of other similar words when they clearly should have many unique properties? In that case you might as well just be doing an image search online and looking at the results. In the end despite the somewhat likable presentation I disliked the game so much it earned a place in my "worst" games of all time, and made me extremely leery of playing any sequels. I suppose I'll try another one out sometime in the future, but it definitely won't be any time soon.

Sketch these Scribblenauts links:
- FAQ at GameFAQs, which includes a list of the game's entire vocabulary
- Cute ad for the game
- Entry at Wikipedia
- Review at NintendoLife

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I've mentioned this before, but as someone who's creative in my daily life, I'm generally not very interested on games that are focused on creativity. So it took me a while before momentum had built up to the point where I broke down and picked up a copy of Super Mario Maker for Wii U. By that time a significant number of Miiverse friends had the game, and official courses had been released, including Event Courses, which grant you new costumes such as Daisy (heart, heart) and the Nintendo Badge Arcade bunny.

I was really glad that Mario Maker was different from a regular platformer, and really glad it's not just another New Super Mario Bros. game. The game actually throws in enough brand-new elements (and rarely seen elements, such as the awesome and classic Kuribo's Shoe) that just playing the included sample courses was entertaining. Making courses is pretty fun, although I don't have enough patience to actually sit down and come with anything really good. But it's fun to fool around with the different elements. A lot of people have complained about the slow rate of unlocking elements, but as someone who prefers focusing on small sets of elements anyway this didn't bother me at all.

But for me the main draw was always going to be the courses, and by now there's a nice number of official courses as well as some fantastic player-created courses. Some of the official courses are much more pain than pleasure, though. I spent a stupid amount of time beating one of the official courses, which has a 0.52% completion rate. I'm glad I can say I beat it, but I'm definitely not looking forward to the other official course with a similarly low completion rate. Playing through levels such as these, fun as some of them might be, brought up my main complaint with the game which is that even the hardest levels can be gotten through with enough repetition and memorization, so the overall experience isn't as much fun as a regular platformer because there's no story or different worlds or some other sense of progression.

The way that creators have used the Mario elements and created levels has been impressive, and I enjoy that the majority of them have a distinctly non-Nintendo feel. There's a lot of variety, and seeing what friends have created is fun (although why there's not friends list feature within the game is a bit of a mystery). It's also fun to see recreations of levels from other games, like Super Mario Bros. 2. The accompanying bookmark website is a great addition, as it makes it easy to queue up a bunch of courses you want to try out. Finding good courses to play is definitely not a problem, as there are features within the game and no shortage of sites (including the official site) posting their recommendations. One of the other complaints about the game is that creators can only upload a limited number of levels unless they get a certain number of stars (i.e. votes from other users). Since this is a way to force some self-regulated quality control I didn't have a problem with this, and if people stopped to think about it they would appreciate it rather than see it as a limitation.

I admit that I liked the game much more than I expected. I'm happy to have spent time playing through levels and I'll continue to dip back into the game as new event courses are released and more friends get the game. I don't feel the need to play through the practically infinite number of levels the game provides, but it will definitely be fascinating to see where Nintendo and Mario's classic platforming go from here.

Check out these creative Super Mario Maker links:
- Official website
- Miiverse community
- Who can forget what was the best ad for the game, aka the inclusion during the finals of the Nintendo World Championships at E3 2015? This was the first time I'd seen anything in the game that actually made me want to buy it.
- Review at deKay's Gaming Diary
- Review at NintendoLife
- Some course recommendations from Nintendo's official Facebook page
- Some course recommendations at kotaku.com

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