522 reviews liked by waywardlaser


We’ve all felt it. The initial high of the boss character joining the party followed by the seeping realisation that their abilities have been neutered for the sake of such lofty ideas as “balance” or “difficulty curves,” done in the attempt of providing us with something even more sinister – “fun.” But dream bigger, gamer, and picture this: what if the boss character not only didn’t suck, but was such a highlight of the game as to arguably be its unique selling point?

Not content just with flipping one of its genre’s most tried and true emotional rollercoasters on its head, Bowser’s Inside Story elevates itself further in its handling of the big fella’s portion of the combat system. The way Mario & Luigi handles defence was already pretty fascinating; being able to control both bros in real time as your enemy’s turn’s in progress, with either one’s jump or hammer strike having the potential to double up as a counterattack and cut their turn short depending on your timing, shares common ground with its sister series’ timed guards in ensuring you can never be asleep at the wheel while also lending itself to more outcomes. The ‘or’ is key there, though, since which defensive action they can take’s dependent on the enemy’s attack. Bowser’s half of the equation’s differentiated in that he can both punch and duck regardless of which attack’s coming your way (in other words, having two defensive options at any given time). This enabling enemies’ attack patterns to be bigger and more unpredictable’s great, the final boss in particular sporting two sequences I love in which you’re made to quickly alternate between the two, but it also has the less obvious benefit of causing his segments and the bros’ to become mutual pace breakers for one another. It hits this sweet spot of both gameplay styles being substantially divergent enough for a switch up to feel refreshing after spending several hours in one, while also retaining a similar enough flavour that neither feels disparate from the other.

By virtue of its control scheme, similar praise can be extended to how it approaches both special moves and minigames. Glancing at my favourite games on here’ll probably give you the idea that I’m gimmick sections’ strongest soldier, but that’s only partway true. I don’t mind them as much as most because I think the extent to which they diverge from standard gameplay’s often overstated in the first place. When a QTE kicks off to show Wonder Blue or Bayonetta deflecting an attack by whipping out a sword or summoning a demon at just the right time, it’s hard for me to feel that it’s some kind of egregious distraction when those are tricks that you can pull off of your own accord anyhow, usually with the same inputs to boot. Bowser’s Inside Story is a similar situation; where do you draw the line between game and minigame when giving someone a back massage via flaming goombas or bouncing on leg sinews with the bros stacked on top of each other respectively utilise touch controls and A presses in 1:1 the same manner as in combat? Giant Bowser sections suffer a bit from comparatively inconsistent controls – sliding the stylus to do a punch, for example, was frequently about as unresponsive as my heart upon seeing the prices that used DS games go for now – but they’re no less effective a showcase of how effortlessly this game ties such obscenely varied scenarios into one wholistic, mechanically consistent experience.

The upping of gear customisation and associated number crunching’s similarly natural an evolution for that side of the series as the above is for action commands. There’s not so much of it that you’ll spend an excessive amount of time menuing or which’d otherwise diminish the relative simplicity that Mario RPGs partially derive their appeal from, yet still enough to allow for noticeably increased variation in character building. As an example, I got tired early on of how little damage my Luigi was dealing compared to my Mario, so I opted to go all in on the rate at which the former dealt critical hits and equipped him with both socks(?) that further buffed the chance of them and boots which buffed his jump damage, working out that much more synergistically since a successful jump action command now results in two hits as opposed to one. Relying predominantly on gear for this sort of thing as opposed to stat investment also probably facilitates experimentation more than if you had to trek through some sort of respec process each time instead; in the last few hours of the game, my Bowser was flip flopping between setups that focused on leeching enemies’ HP, applying status effects or milking one good punch for all it’s worth at the drop of a hat.

Credit to the enemy/boss roster not just for warranting this sort of thing, but also for how gorgeously animated they are. It’s insane how consistently readable their tells manage to be considering the creativity on display. They’ll varyingly fly onto the top screen to test your depth perception, switch the bros’ positions/inputs through magic, miss a projectile throw after misplacing their goggles or even incorporate limited 3D and none of it ever once feels overwhelming or unreactable. It’s not just them, either, considering this sheet doesn’t even encompass any of Bowser’s battle sprites and any individual part of it still features more shading detail, squashing, stretching and smearing than I could dream of myself despite having been into drawing since I was little. If having what’s probably the most expressive characterisations of everyone who appears in it wasn’t enough, the visual polish’s matched in feel – the effort gone into better transliterating the bros’ agile origins into a JRPG overworld’s immediately apparent whenever the hovering twister jump returns and no longer restricts you to moving in one direction, contrasted effectively by the slight screen shake accompanying every step Bowser takes. Across a ~20 hour game, you spend a few seconds in the air as him in total and his inertia when sliding off a ledge feels so right regardless that it wouldn’t be out of place in a platformer.

Basically, it’s not surprising that AlphaDream went kaput, though a company’s only a name at the end of the day. Original creatives being involved with something doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality, but coupled with what a winning formula these games are and Nintendo’s wrangling abilities, it does inspire hope. Outside of aforementioned and occasional unresponsiveness during some of the game’s toughest sections, the worst thing I can say about Bowser’s Inside Story in particular, which I now reckon is probably my ideal turn-based itch scratcher, is that I want more of it; the Challenge Node’s less a post-game than the vignette of one (though still appreciated for introducing superbosses to these games at all), one or two overworld abilities are maybe introduced a little late and bosses other than the final one having themes unique to them wouldn’t have hurt. To walk away with wants as lightweight as those, with more of it already on the way? It really is I who nuts to that.

Insane how drastically different my Harry turned out this time. I wanted to see how far in the other direction I could push the character in comparison to my first run, and so I ended up with an ultraliberal, alcoholic, violent, god fearing, misogynistic, drug addict who punched one child and tried to shoot another. I really didn't expect this level of flexibility with a protagonist that has a pre established backstory and history, it somehow works so well (even if I found the story to be much more satisfying if you sober up and go on a journey of self discovery.) Anyway, I love this game, flawless, no notes.

Can become a little repetitive at times but lots of fun. I’m excited for what comes next as i’ve heard great things about 2 so i’m looking forward to that.

Something which can get lost in conversations about especially faithful remakes is what elements outside of the games themselves can bring to the table. The key differentiator between my experiences with the original Thousand Year Door and this version, as well as what ultimately led both to my preference for the latter and greater appreciation for the strong points it's always had, isn’t anything to do with localisation alterations, white character outlines, reflective surfaces or whatever other common talking points you can shake a hammer at – it’s the handheld factor.

Granted, the transition from a pure home console to a hybrid wouldn’t be as impactful if it weren’t for some of the in-game adjustments which complement it. The new fast travel room, which initially seems like just a stopgap measure, eventually reveals itself to be a gamechanger once the backtracking comes to a head in the form of General White, and even smaller level-specific inclusions like the spring on Keelhaul Key’s midsection shave off substantial amounts of time which used to be spent absent-mindedly holding right, then left, then right, then left. As appreciable as they are in a vacuum, it’s the additional convenience and lack of commitment inherent to the handheld format stacked on top which really drew my attention toward them to an extent I’m not sure would’ve happened if these still pretty lacklustre segments were something I had to plop myself down for and dedicate 100% of my attention to. Serious recommendation: if you’ve access to a treadmill at home, hop on it while playing and be amazed at how much more engaging TTYD’s overworld exploration can be when you’re balancing it alongside yourself.

The bizarre inability to speed up text bubbles you haven’t already seen before hurts this appeal, and I personally would’ve preferred some bolder adjustments to the levels in general (like, for example, taking a leaf out of Mario & Luigi’s book and making traversal more puzzle-like), though it’s understandable that they’d want to play it fairly safe given Mario RPGs’ precarious circumstances until recently. If there’s anything I’m glad to see untouched, it’s this combat system. Action commands are great in any form for the tactility they add, but in this particular case you can also feel a concentrated effort to one up the original Paper Mario’s already ambitious variation in inputs for them, pretty much every individual attack being distinct from every other one in terms of motions, timing or both (which also applies to each one’s stylish moves). Special Attacks and the audience which acts as fuel for them add at least two intertwined layers of resource management to consider, with the latter specifically also sprinkling in a bit of dynamism thanks to how audience members can help or hinder you depending on your performance and/or what type of creature they are. Even the properties of your partners’ overworld abilities tie into it through the first strike system, helping the two main gameplay components feel less disparate and enabling silly nonsense like this. This game’s panache in terms of character design warrants the praise (Luigi gets an entire party of his own whom we never even get to see in action), but that clip’s also an example of a trait which probably deserves more attention, i.e. how it uses the readability of mainline Mario’s enemies to inform their unique quirks when translated into a JRPG format.

Everything pertaining to TTYD’s combat mechanics is so good that you can’t help but wish that this version added some kind of difficulty modifier to better push them to their limits, as well as to give an extra incentive for returning players. Thankfully, though, there are a pair of new post-game superbosses which effectively tease at this sort of thing. The absence of a Prince Mush fight in the original felt conspicuous even at the time considering both the extent to which other characters hype him up and the resolution to his arc, so it’s cathartic to see this delivered upon at all, never mind for it to be so distinctive that it’s (as far as I’m aware) the only boss which outright requires you to superguard just to be able to damage him. Whacka’s in a similar boat, substantiating a one-off gag with a fight that’s as comedic as it is dangerous and in which the potential danger only grows every single time you whack-a him. These aren’t just cool bosses in and of themselves, but also signs of promise – with Mario RPGs’ prospective futures looking the brightest they’ve probably been since around the time of the original TTYD, it’s pretty exciting to experience firsthand that Intelligent Systems are still capable of creating compelling fights with this battle system.

They and others are also, I’d argue, indications that the remake’s musical direction’s more well-considered than occasional claims of it being overproduced compared to the original tend to suggest. If you could take a conceptual joke boss who also happens to be able to deal 80+ damage in a single turn in a game where single digits’re often cause for concern, a Super Toad God Super Toad wanting to give his audience one last hurrah or a skeletal dragon sleeping at the bottom of a cursed pit and convert them into audio files, it’s hard to imagine any of those not respectively sounding like this, this or this. Bonetail’s theme in particular feels well-aligned with the spirit of “old” Paper Mario and its aforementioned emphasis on standout character designs, given that it’s now unique to him rather than shared with the other two dragons. I’m in favour of any game having more electric guitar riffs in it as a general rule, it’s just that it’s especially conducive to the ambiance of a game that’s willing to get so adventurous with its cutesy source material (as well as a better vehicle for conveying the seediness of Rogueport).

That adventurousness is something I’ve come to appreciate much more now than I did as a 6 year old, so my gladness at TTYD being given a second wind’s twofold: the potential it has to see wider success on an install base magnitudes bigger, and for enticing me to revisit it when I otherwise probably wouldn’t have. I say revisit because, although (for all the reasons above) the additions made here are substantial enough both to justify the remake’s existence and make it my preferred version of the game, so many of its strong suits were ever-present. As it turns out, it doesn’t take a full-on overhaul of something for you to see the greatness it always had – sometimes it just takes 20 years, a change in attitude, a couple of new superbosses and the ability to play it on workout equipment.

I enjoy this one. Nothing amazing but simple and fun enough. Probably one of the better licensed games in general.

"Jump and hit the circle ⭕ button!"

A great first entry to the Cooper Legacy.

Also I played this on PS5. Super happy they re-released the first Sly game on PS4/5. Now to wait for Sly 2 and 3. 🫠

Sonic Mania is way past cool.

Liked 🙂♥️

I never thought they could beat the original game, but my goodness they did it. Although there's a smaller cast this time, as well as a smaller campaign, it actually felt even better under the smaller playtime. The new moves and abilities added with the addition of Donkey Kong and Rabbid Cranky Kong really spice up the gameplay. Overall, it left me wishing more, even to the point of actually wanting a stand alone game of Donkey Kong and Rabbids. Imagine all the possibilities with more enemies and playable characters.

All 3 episodes are great but god, the last episode is really something else. My jaw was dropped for the whole thing. There is nothing like it. Gaming is so unoriginal nowadays, it’s nice to have something that breaks the mould every once in a while.

Contagious happiness asterisked by an air of “hey, wait a minute” brought about through no fault of its own. Two experiences cause this feeling: realising that yeah, the best game on this thing really is the tech demo that comes with it, along with subsequent gladness that it only cost your brother £20 thanks to a raffle ticket inside a Doritos bag; and ogling the who’s who of Easter eggs after loading into your first level only to notice soon after that just one of the developers represented by them in that particular spot hasn’t been unceremoniously shuttered.

Despite how frequently it comes across as gaming’s cheeriest graveyard, the charm of Astro’s Playroom is such that it features real life peripherals as its main collectible and somehow manages to not feel cultlike. Astro himself’s a big factor in this, embodying so many of the best characteristics of this brand’s would-be mascots of the past; a simple enough silhouette that anyone could quickly scribble down a recognisable drawing of him, lack of dialogue forcing him to rely on universally understandable expressions instead, vibrant yet malleable visuals which let him be twisted into a representation of any IP you can shake a stick at, easily able to slide up the cute and/or cool scales as and when required. Regardless of his probability of joining them in the dumpster someday, he really pulls his weight in terms of likeability and as a distilment of the game’s meticulousness. Contextual idle animations like him waving at the camera or holding his hand out in the rain may just be presentational, but they still contribute a fair amount to making him feel alive and giving him a personality distinct from the otherwise pretty samey array of photorealistic humans he shares SIE’s narrow potential-marketing-icon umbrella with, plus this kind of attention to detail’s extended to interactable objects in more substantive ways anyhow (like fully functioning diving boards in the background of one stage or beach balls you can do keepy-uppies with).

It’s a little unfortunate that he’s more interesting to gawk at or think about than to control, even if his double jump doubling up as an attack sees some inspired use, though the levels are smartly small enough that his limited moveset never becomes unengaging and is made up for by the segments where the controller’s gimmicks get to shine. The motion-controlled ball areas test your manipulation of momentum in a way that standard gameplay’s unable to, the climbing parts transform it into a miniature GIRP sequel, and a combo of gyro aiming plus the use of adaptive triggers make the shooting sections more tactile than this console’s actual flagship shooters, but my favourite ones are the frog bits. The long and short of one of my hypothetical game daydreams is a 3D platformer in which you play as a frog who has to do everything by jumping rhythmically, and I probably should’ve guessed before now that the closest thing currently in existence to that’s in something made by a subdivision of my favourite developer. Why wouldn’t it be? That’s why they were my favourite. Some studios create games so specific to your tastes it’s like they were made just for you, while others are so specific it’s as if they telepathically scan your brain for anything you think is cool and decide to make a game out of it.

Less fully on my wavelength is how it functions as a celebration of these systems’ history. This aspect’s still more good than bad, right enough. Part of why I mentioned that Astro’s Playroom manages to avoid feeling cultish is specifically because I wouldn’t trust any current SIE executives to be able to tell me what PAIN or Super Rub ‘a’ Dub are, nevermind greenlight giving them arguably more headspace than much bigger IPs by partially basing two levels’ mechanics off of them. Cool deep cuts notwithstanding, though, I’m taken out of it a bit by the haphazard distribution of Easter eggs. Kat, I love you, but what’re you doing in the PS2 level? I recognise her, but given that she’s a lesser known in the grand scheme of things and has no connection to the era she’s been placed in, I wouldn’t blame somebody if they didn’t. I even had this experience with a game I myself am actually familiar with, in part because of this sort of thematic mismatch and because what I assume’s recency bias (whether their own or imposed on them) led the devs to scrape the bottom of the barrel in places – it took me a 10 second long, confused, squinty stare to realise that The Order 1886 was being referenced at one point.

Apart from potentially hampering its own ability to give some of these games much needed exposure, it made me question whether it’s right for all of these lads to be on a level playing field representationally. Obviously, a company’s not going to encourage an interactive showcase to give some of its own IPs preferential treatment over others, but isn’t it a little weird to put your man on equal footing with a contributor to dual analog sticks becoming an industry standard, a platformer which piqued Shigeru Miyamoto’s interest in addition to driving the brand’s popularity in what used to be its home market or something which dwarfed the rest of its genre in popularity to the point that “God of War clone” was a pretty widespread term for a good two console generations? Granted, their most successful period up to this point needed some representatives and one of Astro’s cousins taking the form of a third party cash shop likely wasn’t on the table. “Cultural impact” is really just a straw you grasp onto when you need to rationalise that a transparent success you don’t like has actually secretly failed, so I’ll concede that what I think of when I think of Kratos having more songs written about him and crossovers under his belt might not compare to his most recent entries’ combined ~34 million units (albeit buoyed by discounts, bundles and giveaways).

Ultimately, I’m inclined to consider Astro’s Playroom a small miracle regardless of any of this because it’s so wildly out of the wheelhouse of what I’ve come to associate these consoles with and a refreshing reminder of why I was ever interested in them in the first place. If you wanted to get obnoxiously airy fairy, you could probably make some kind of point about how the bright colours of the ∆◯X☐ symbols regularly flying around aren’t even on the controller anymore, but its friction against the overall direction of its parent company only strengthens its case and makes the prospect of a more fleshed out iteration of it more exciting. If not fully in terms of people, Asobi at least seems to carry on a bit of Japan Studio's spirit.

1 list liked by waywardlaser