I always enjoy it whenever Nintendo digs into their back catalog and gives an international release to previously Japan-only games, so I jumped on Vs. Excitebike when it was released on Wii U's Virtual Console way back when. Since then the game has also appeared on Nintendo Switch Online, but recenty I dusted off my Wii U and finally gave my original copy a closer look.

I was a huge fan of the little-known update to Excitebike on WiiWare, called Excitebike: World Rally, so it's hard for me to rewind my brain back to 1988. Even so, Vs. Excitebike isn't a complete improvement over the original NES game. The core gameplay is the same, and racing against the clock or against CPU opponents to get through each track is as satisfying as ever. The controls are tight and jumping off of ramps is a lot of fun, and managing your boost to avoid overheating becomes a tense affair. The original release of Vs. Excitebike also had the advantage of making use of Famicom's disk system in order to save high scores and custom designed tracks, and the game also includes a great 2-player split screen mode and also much more music than the original.

In the original you could choose between two modes where you either raced solo or against CPU riders. In this game you alternate between qualifying rounds where you have to race one lap solo and beat a target time, and two-lap races against CPU riders where you also need to beat a target time. The game ups the number of tracks from five to seven, but you can only choose to start from the first, second, or third tracks. A free stage select would have made the game much more fun, because the game gets quite difficult around stage 4, and near impossible by the end. It was only thanks to many save states and a lot of practice that I was able to beat the final track, and although it was satisfying, I really have to wonder if anyone was ever able to beat it back in the day before we had the luxury of save states.

The game has a couple of other little surprises tucked away. You usually only have one chance to get as far as you can (with the last stage repeating, presumably indefinitely), but apparently you gain an extra chance at some point (maybe around 100k points?). There's also a bonus game that pops up twice in between races where you leap over train cars for a change of pace. I can't help but miss the addition of the WiiWare successor (namely, the bonus burst of speed if you knock out an opponent or hit a perfect landing), but even though this game improves on the original in many ways, overall I do have to rank this one a little lower than the original. The Vs. games were intended to be more challenging versions of the original games, but the extremely high difficulty of this game's core mode compared to the original really puts it into the "more painful than fun" category. I'm glad this game has gotten a wider release thanks to Nintendo Switch Online, though, and I'm still holding out hope for another entry in the series some day.

Well, I guess it's been four years since I played Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, and at that time I'd said, "...despite all the tweaks the game feels essentially very much like its predecessor, and even though I enjoyed both I can't say that I'm that motivated to run out and try Monster Hunter Generations. If I had someone to play with on a semi-regular basis I could see myself spending more time with these games". My recent experience playing Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate on Switch basically ends with the same conclusion, but there were still some good times along the way.

MHGU originally came out on New 3DS in the summer of 2016, but I'm glad I waited to dive into it until it came to Switch. The Switch version has the main benefit of being able to play the game on a big screen which is where it belongs, although it's definitely not the prettiest game due to its handheld origins. As usual, I focused on a new to me weapon, specifically the insect glaive. (MHGU also introduced "Prowler mode", which lets you take on the role of the supporting Felyne character, but I didn't bother much with that.) The insect glaive is an odd weapon in that you shoot out a semi-sentient insect that hits a monster and extracts "essence" of different colors depending on the monster and the body part. You can combine the different colors, rather like with the hunting horn, although the combinations are much more limited (there are only a few). To get the most out of the system you have to balance extracting essences and attacking, which makes the glaive a little fiddly. It's a fast weapon and fun to use overall, though, but so far of the weapons I've tried I prefer the hunting horn for its lower stress supporting role.

Unlike the previous game, this one has the barest of stories, but it was fun to see previous villages and characters from the two previous games in the series I've played, and I'm sure it must be even more enjoyable for fans who have been playing since the series' earliest days. The game also introduces "Hunting Styles", which basically add on different styles of play. Practically speaking, for me it just gave me access to some powerful "ultimate attacks", which you can select from and are based on a meter that fills up. On top of having the advantage of this being my third game in the series, these attacks made it even easier for me to zip through most of the low rank quests. Being familiar with the series I was also able to not bother getting too bogged down in the peripheral systems, such as the farm and recruiting Felynes, although I appreciated how many features the game does have.

I enjoyed playing my third Monster Hunter game and there were just enough updates to make it worthwhile, but at its core not a lot has changed. This time around the burrowing and flying monsters were particularly annoying, but on the up-side, there weren't any required capture quests in the parts that I played, so that was a definite plus. As I said about MH4U, although I enjoyed this game overall, I would've played it more if I had someone to play with on a regular basis. As it is this is another game that I'm going to have to set aside indefinitely. It's nice to see that the series has finally established a firm foothold in the West, and Monster Hunter Rise (releasing near the end of this month) looks like a great current gen version. Again, I'm not in a rush to go out and get it right away, but it looks like it has some fun new additions (namely, monster riding, a dog companion, and a grappling hook), and I'm sure I'll pick it up eventually.

I think I may have heard of the name of the NES title "S.C.A.T." (full name S.C.A.T.: Special Cybernetic Attack Team) as an example of a terrible video game name before it was released on Nintendo Switch Online, but I had never paid any attention to it. I can't recall ever seeing it on best of the system lists or anything like that (although apparently it's gotten uniformly favorable reviews in its previous Virtual Console releases on Wii, Wii U, and 3DS), so I basically went into it blind. It turns out the game is actually a really enjoyable shooter, with a very Contra-like feel to it. You're a soldier floating through the space and able to move in all directions, so it should feel more like something like Gradius, but the weapons, enemies, aesthetics, and co-op gameplay make it feel more like Contra to me.

The main unique feature of the game is quite inspired and still feels fresh. Each player has two drones that can either be set to continuously rotate around you, or you can press a button and have them stay fixed in place. This mechanic is really fun, and because of the level design you have to make the most of your drones, which adds a nice amount of strategy to what would otherwise be a pretty standard shoot 'em up game. Playing it in co-op, it was interesting to see that while I definitely preferred changing my drones' orientation based on the situation, my buddy preferred just letting them constantly rotate. Also, I definitely preferred the spread gun, while my buddy preferred the gun with bullets that explode on impact. (Both of us avoided the laser gun at all costs).

The game plays perfectly well on Switch Online, and the cheat codes for extra lives and a stage select, along with the Switch Online features to set checkpoints and rewind, make it a relaxing and enjoyable experience for an afternoon, although trying to get through the game as a regular playthrough would require far more memorization and concentration. Apparently in the last ten years the value of the original NES cartridge has skyrocketed and it's now worth more than 100 USD, so it's great that Switch Online is digging up these rare lost gems of the original NES and SNES systems. I'm looking forward to continuing to work my way through the various games they have to offer.

Just as I don't think anyone predicted Tetris 99, the battle royale version of Tetris (which I quite enjoyed), I don't think anyone predictedSuper Mario Bros. 35, a Nintendo Switch Online free to play release with a similar setup but is based on the original NES Super Mario Bros. game and was released as part of that game's 35th anniversary.

The setup of Super Mario Bros. 35 should feel familiar to anyone who's played Tetris 99. You're one against many (in this case, 34 instead of 98), and your job is to outlast everyone else. In an ingenious adaptation of Tetris's versus mechanics, in Super Mario Bros. 35 the enemies you defeat in your playthrough of a level gets dropped into someone else's. Like Tetris this can be a hindrance, but it can also be a benefit since you can turn around and defeat those enemies to send them back to your opponents. In this game you also have to worry about dying and running out of time, and defeating enemies earns you back some time. You also only get one life, but powerups are plentiful and by earning coins you can activate an item rouelette at anytime (assuming you have enough coins to buy one). As in Tetris 99 you also have the option to target specific opponents based on the lowest remaining time, etc., but in general I didn't bother with that.

At its best the game ends up having a similar feel as the superb Super Mario Maker 2 in terms of the mayhem caused by unexpected enemies being dumped into random stages, such as flying Cheep Cheeps or Bloopers appearing in land stages and Koopa Troopas appearing underwater. It's also a lot of fun to tear through hordes of enemies with fireballs (easily the best powerup of the game) and a Super Star. The game is a lot of fun in general in short bursts, but the main mode ends up being a drag because each player picks a stage that they've unlocked to be included in the pool of possible stages that will be chosen from, and most players only have the first couple of stages unlocked. This means you'll end up playing the same two stages over and over again. Unlocking new stages is a chore, although the special mode makes this easier. There's been a regular parade of special modes (only one active at any time), each featuring a variation of the regular mode, e.g. start off with a certain powerup or with a certain number of coins. The special modes feature subsets of all the 32 possible stages, and as in the main mode, beating a stage unlocks it for you to choose from in the future. There's also a practice mode where you can play any stage that you want.

As a long-time Super Mario Bros. vet I have a built-in advantage over young 'uns who may have never played the game before, and it's not too hard for me to be one of the last people standing. The last parts of a match get to be a big slog, though. Without a lot of players the number of enemies you can send to or receive from your opponent gets much smaller, and so when there are a few people left it takes a long time before anyone emerges as the winner. In most cases it becomes more a matter of time running out than losing from making a platforming mistake, and it seems like with a little tweaking to the game mechanics this could have been a little more polished.

The game is set to shut down on March 31 of this year, which seems like a bizarre decision on Nintendo's part, although it remains to be seen if the game will pop up again in some form in the future. Overall this was a fun little curiosity, but with the original NES Super Mario Bros. game available on pretty much every Nintendo platform and Super Mario Maker 2 providing much more variety, this isn't a game that I felt compelled to spend a ton of time on. It's easy to recommend for people with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to try out, especially if you haven't already mastered the original NES, but it's not one that I'm going to miss too much when it gets shut down.

I'm sure I'm not the only Nintendo super fan who's still carrying his 3DS around on the offhand chance I'll get a StreetPass (more realistically, to colllect the StreetPass coins you can earn, one for every 100 steps you take), but we're clearly well past the 3DS's prime. It's too bad the Switch never had an updated version of the 3DS's ingenious StreetPass functionality, where you can earn little in-game bonuses in a wide range of games that support the feature if your 3DS passes someone else's 3DS, even if you never take your systems out of your pocket. It's just as well, though, since it would've been a pain to have to think about carrying both systems around, haha.

Anyway, I recently got the second ending of Feed Mii, one of the five games that were part of Mii Plaza's final update from September 2016, four and a half years ago (!). I've written about the various add-ons to the original base Mii Plaza games as they've been released, and the most recent was the third batch of games (the second set of paid games), which included a fishing game and a zombie hack and slash. Back in the day it was a little thrill whenever you saw the green StreetPass light, and these quick play games provided a lot of variety. Nintendo really paved the way of the "few minutes a day" gameplay in games such as Animal Crossing and Nintendogs, and the StreetPass games were a perfect way of killing some time on the bus or the subway.

This third and last batch was the biggest update and consisted of a whopping five games, and you could download one of a choice of two for free. One of the options was Market Crashers, and that game is the quickest of the five to get through, both in terms of daily sessions and also in terms of 100% completing it. It's a basic stock market simulation, and I enjoyed its simplicity and also its references to all the other StreetPass minigames. On the other end of the spectrum, Ninja Launcher is a unique little game where you try to line up Miis of different heights and Slot Car Rivals is a real-time racing game that has you using one button to time boosting over certain parts of a range of tracks. Both of those games are fun, but they both require a lot of focus to do well, so they're my least played of the group.

In the middle are Feed Mii and Mii Trek. The former has you combining ingredients brought by Miis to follow or create new recipes, and the latter has you navigating a map to search for treasure. Both don't require a whole lot of attention, but like the flower shop managing game, both of them are going to take a huge amount of time to 100%. I was doing really well with getting to 100% in the original Mii Plaza games and the first batch of paid DLC, but many of the games in this and the second batch of paid DLC feel quite drawn out at times. The reign of the 3DS overlapped with the rise of smartphones, so the genre of quick play games has been completely oversaturated, no doubt contributing to my loss of interest in 100% completing the rest of the StreetPass games, particularly as getting StreetPasses themselves has become extremely rare and some games require you to have a real StreetPass rather than being able to use StreetPass coins.

All in all Mii Plaza had a great run while it lasted, and it's too bad that some of the games don't really make it possible to complete them 100% using StreetPass coins, or at least make it much more difficult. Overall I enjoyed this set more than the previous one, and I'm going to continue to carry my 3DS and work my way towards 100% completing as much as I can whenever my stash of StreetPass coins gets full, but it will continue to be bittersweet to come back to this game and recall how much fun it was in its heyday.