Five amazing Nintendo 64 games

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers are present for some of the entries on this list.

Nintendo recently launched the so-called Switch online “expansion pack” – representing incredibly poor value, but that’s beside the point. Included with the subscription are a handful of Nintendo 64 titles which the Switch can emulate. It just got me thinking about one of my favourite consoles and some of the amazing games I enjoyed back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

I upgraded from a Super Nintendo (or SNES) to a Nintendo 64 at Christmas 1997, and the console was my primary gaming machine for about three years until I picked up a Dreamcast shortly after the turn of the millennium. Though I had a PC as well at the time, it was underpowered compared to the console and couldn’t come close to matching it. Though we often think of PC gaming in 2021 as being the gold standard that consoles have to try to measure up to, it wasn’t that long ago where even an expensive PC would struggle in gaming performance next to a dedicated games console – and the Nintendo 64/PlayStation generation was certainly part of that era!

A transparent blue Nintendo 64 console – and its controller.

The Nintendo 64 was my first experience with proper 3D graphics. I’d played PC games with 3D environments before, and other games with 3D sprites, but it was only when I sat down to play Super Mario 64 that I got to fully experience a 3D virtual world. It felt like the future back then – and considering that the Nintendo 64 pioneered a number of features that are still part of gaming today, I guess I was right about that!

Aesthetically, I love the design of the Nintendo 64 and its controller. The chunky three-armed device was intimidating at first; “I don’t have three hands,” I remember thinking, “so how am I supposed to hold it?!” But having an analogue stick was a neat feature, one that felt like a massive upgrade from the wobbly joysticks or D-pads of past consoles I’d been able to play on. Navigating the new 3D environments needed a controller suited to that purpose, and the Nintendo 64’s analogue stick delivered – even if it seems a little primitive when compared to the controllers we enjoy today! Having a “trigger” also made shooting games feel all the more immersive.

A Nintendo 64 controller. What a weird design!

The Nintendo 64 had a stellar lineup of games – several of which I only got to play years later as they were unaffordable to me when I was younger and broke! Now I’m old and still broke – but at least there’s emulation! Actually, the Nintendo 64 was the console that got me into the emulation scene back in the early 2000s. After upgrading to a more powerful PC I found that I could emulate the console quite well, and had a blast re-playing a few favourites as well as playing titles I missed out on first time around. I can’t condone emulation – it’s a legal minefield and you should be careful – but if you have a decent computer and know what you’re doing you’ll have a far better (and cheaper) time than you would if you paid for a Switch online “expansion pack!”

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I’d say that the games of this era represent a transitional stage for the video games industry as a whole. Most Nintendo 64 titles feel like a half-step between the rather basic, toy-like games of earlier generations and the bigger, more in-depth and cinematic titles that we’d enjoy a few short years later. The move from 2D to 3D didn’t immediately lead to masterpieces like Shenmue or Knights of the Old Republic, but the rapid pace of technological change meant that those kinds of games were finally possible. The Nintendo 64 has some games that tried very hard to tell more adult-oriented stories, and it was around this time that I felt video games as a whole had a heck of a lot of potential to be something more.

This was an era of transition for video games.

So on this occasion – twenty-five years on from the Nintendo 64’s 1996 debut – I thought it would be fun to look at five of my favourite titles. These are just a few of the games that, for me anyway, made the Nintendo 64 great. My usual caveat applies: I’m not saying these five games are “objectively the best” Nintendo 64 games out there. If you hate all of them or don’t see your favourite on the list, that’s okay! There are plenty of Nintendo 64 games out there, and we all have our personal favourites. These are just a few of mine!

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the list – which is in no particular order.

Number 1: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

The Battle of Hoth.

A few years before Knights of the Old Republic would come along and absolutely blow me away, Shadows of the Empire took me on an outstanding Star Wars-themed adventure. A third-person action-adventure game with nary a Jedi nor the Force in sight, players take control of the Han Solo-inspired Dash Rendar for a wild romp across the galaxy – set during and just after the events of The Empire Strikes Back!

What I adored about Shadows of the Empire was the diversity of gameplay on display. Not only could Dash run and gun in a 3D world that looked so much better and felt way more immersive than any 2D Star Wars game I’d played previously, but he could also pilot several different vehicles – a Snowspeeder taking on AT-AT walkers on Hoth, his own spaceship, swoop bikes, and more.

Shadows of the Empire came at a time when the old Expanded Universe was really ramping up, and along with a novel and comic was technically considered canon until Disney expunged the Expanded Universe in 2013. However, being an official project with a high degree of involvement from Lucasfilm meant that the game slotted in well to the Star Wars universe, feeling genuinely connected to the events and characters of the films.

Number 2: Super Mario 64

Wheeeeeee!

Of course we’re going to talk about Super Mario 64! This was the only Nintendo 64 game I had at first, and I played it for hours and hours! Though I’d played some games on the PC – like Doom – which used pseudo-3D environments, and others which used 3D sprites for 2D gameplay, Super Mario 64 was the first truly 3D game that I played. The difference in how immersive and realistic the game felt, and how it conveyed a sense of scale that really made me feel part of its world are feelings I have never forgotten even a quarter of a century later!

Booting up Super Mario 64 for the first time was a wild experience, one that has stuck with me ever since. But the game itself was fantastic, too, with Mario on a quest to save Princess Peach by battling Bowser and his minions inside painting worlds. The unique premise allowed Super Mario 64 to show off a range of different levels and different environments, and new gameplay mechanics – some of which were inspired by past Super Mario titles – allowed a far greater degree of environmental interaction than ever before.

One level in Super Mario 64 that stands out is Wet-Dry World. Players could change the amount of water in the level, raising and lowering it both by jumping into the painting at different heights and within the level itself by touching special items. The idea that Mario could change the environment in real-time, and then use that gameplay mechanic to solve puzzles, was absolutely genius! And the game is full of other examples of this kind of radical, utterly transformative gameplay.

Number 3: GoldenEye 007

Pew! Pew!

GoldenEye took the first-person shooter concept and honed it, making excellent use of the Nintendo 64’s control pad and analogue stick. Without GoldenEye it’s hard to see how other first-person shooters on console – like the Halo series, which arrived a few years later – would have been possible. It was a pioneering title, and surely one of the best film adaptations of all time!

The Nintendo 64 upped the number of control pads and thus the number of players from two on the SNES to four – meaning four-way deathmatches were possible! Split-screen was the order of the day, of course – this was long before online gaming was commonplace – and among my friend group four-player matches were relatively rare. But when we could get a few friends together, playing GoldenEye was a blast! It had fun, fast-paced shooting, well-designed levels with plenty of variety – from maze-like corridors and small rooms to expansive larger environments – and 3D graphics that put you right in the action.

GoldenEye didn’t create the first-person shooter genre. But it took full advantage of the Nintendo 64’s impressive hardware to feel streets ahead of earlier titles – and even many games that were released around the same time. Fully 3D environments and characters instead of 2D “billboard” sprites and a plot that vaguely followed the events of the film made for a fantastic all-around title. Rare would further hone many of the techniques on display when they created Perfect Dark a few years later.

Number 4: F-Zero X

Try not to crash!

You might’ve expected me to put the venerable Mario Kart 64 on this list – especially considering how many times I’ve talked about that game here on the website! But F-Zero X doesn’t get the love it deserves, so on this occasion we can put Mario Kart 64 to one side and look at a different Nintendo 64 racer. F-Zero X is a futuristic-themed racing game, with players in spaceship-like hovercars – and they go really fast!

F-Zero X is an incredibly fast-paced racing game, meaning you often need lightning-fast reflexes! It was a blast, and the unique futuristic aesthetic set it apart from practically every other racing game on the market at the time.

Maybe F-Zero X didn’t have the best graphics. It certainly didn’t push the Nintendo 64 to its 3D limits in the way some other titles did. But despite that, it was an incredibly fun racing game, and were it not for Mario Kart 64 I might be tempted to call it my favourite racer of the era! There’s an odd charm to F-Zero X that I can’t quite put into words; it’s a genuinely different game, and that alone made it a ton of fun.

Number 5: Jet Force Gemini

Rescuing a Tribal in Jet Force Gemini!

Had it been made today, Jet Force Gemini would surely have kicked off a whole franchise! As it is, this Rare-developed title remains a one-off, but it’s an incredibly fun and exciting sci-fi adventure. Jet Force Gemini is one game I would absolutely pick to bring back for a full remake, because it seems such a shame to me that it’s all but forgotten, abandoned in the Nintendo 64 era.

An action-adventure title set in a unique sci-fi world, Jet Force Gemini had a fun and engaging story. It also had smooth shooting and a trio of fun main characters who each got a turn in the spotlight. The game had beautifully-designed levels, with some being pretty big and expansive offering different paths to get to the end.

Rescuing the Tribals – cute teddy bear-like critters – was an additional gameplay element that added a lot to each level, though the game’s insistence on finding every single one could feel like padding sometimes! But the Nintendo 64 era saw games trying out new gameplay mechanics, and the idea of having hidden collectibles would be honed and refined in future titles. Overall, Jet Force Gemini was a lot of fun – and I’d love to see its world and characters return one day.

So that’s it! Five amazing Nintendo 64 games.

The familiar Nintendo 64 logo.

There were loads more titles I could’ve chosen, so stay tuned! This is a topic I may revisit in future. The Nintendo 64 was a great console with some fantastic games. Though it does represent a half-step between older, more basic games and the immersive, cinematic experiences that were soon to come, it’s also a console that pioneered or refined many of the concepts upon which newer games – and even games today – rely.

The Nintendo 64 also had plenty of amazing games in its own right, and while it is an interesting machine from an interesting era in video game history, it’s also a console that I had a lot of fun with in the late 1990s. Back then it didn’t feel like a half-step – it felt cutting-edge, bringing 3D worlds to life and showing off far more realistic graphics than I ever thought possible! It isn’t just the nostalgia talking – the Nintendo 64 was a fantastic machine.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of Nintendo and/or their respective developer, publisher, owner, etc. Some images courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 – final thoughts

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Luigi’s Mansion 3.

Time flies very quickly, doesn’t it? I think that might be the single spookiest thing about my playthrough of Luigi’s Mansion 3! I started playing last October, with a view to putting out a full “Let’s Play” series of articles in the run-up to Halloween, but once Halloween had passed by I put the game on the back burner for a while.

I like Luigi’s Mansion 3. It’s a fun game with some clever mechanics involved, there aren’t any bugs or random spikes in difficulty, and overall it’s the kind of sweet, lightly scary fun that I like to see at this time of year. From my perspective, though, it just didn’t make for a great game to write about in-depth for a full series of articles.

Let’s wrap up Luigi’s Mansion 3.

The reason for that is simple: Luigi’s Mansion 3 has some fantastic gameplay but is relatively light on story. You know the premise: the spooky Hellen Gravely and King Boo have kidnapped Luigi’s friends, and over the course of a dozen or so levels – represented by the floors of the Last Resort hotel – Luigi has to fight various ghosts and spirits to get them back.

In short, the fact that I can summarise the game’s entire story in a couple of sentences encapsulates what made it a struggle to write about in such depth. I could easily write a review of the game – but to give a blow-by-blow account of every interaction on every level, which I tried to do at first, quickly became repetitive. I didn’t think the articles I was putting together were all that interesting to read, let alone entertaining, so I really didn’t know what to do with Luigi’s Mansion 3 for a while.

The game’s title screen.

I kept promising myself that I’d get back to the series once I had a better idea for making the write-ups interesting. But the only thing I could really think of was condensing the articles into fewer instalments, and even then I still didn’t like what I’d produced.

This website has involved a degree of experimentation on my part. Some things developed organically – like the weekly Star Trek theories I write when a new season is running. Others have been attempted, but for various reasons didn’t work as I initially hoped. The Luigi’s Mansion 3 series of articles has been one such disappointment.

Figuring out how to write about Luigi’s Mansion 3 was a challenge.

However, I like to think I’ve learned something worthwhile from the experience! The biggest takeaway for me is that I have more to say and more to talk about when a game has a strong narrative. Once I’d got the prologue out of the way and settled into the Luigi’s Mansion 3 gameplay loop, I found myself running out of things to say. That says something about the way I write as much as it does about games like Luigi’s Mansion 3, and I know that a lot of people have published playthroughs focusing on this game – and many other titles with a comparable style. But this is my website, and I have my own way of writing and of approaching this format!

I would definitely like to do more playthroughs – but as I approach the subject again, I need to consider the choice of games carefully. I chose Luigi’s Mansion 3 last October specifically because it had a spooky theme, but I didn’t really stop to think about how the game works and what I’d be able to write about at the end of each play session. Having learned a thing or two as a result of this experience, I’d like to think any future playthrough series will be a much more interesting read from your point of view – and a much more enjoyable writing experience from mine!

The titular Luigi.

With all of that out of the way, what did I think of Luigi’s Mansion 3? Having never played the first two games in the series, I was coming at the game from a newbie’s point of view. There were a couple of points where having a bit more knowledge of either the greater Mario franchise as a whole or the prior Luigi’s Mansion titles might’ve provided a player with a little more – but this was mostly in the form of “easter eggs” and references; nothing story-wise or gameplay-wise relied on knowledge of other games.

And that’s the way it should be! Luigi’s Mansion 2 came out for the 3DS in 2013, and the original game was a launch title for the GameCube back in 2001, so expecting Switch players in 2019 – when the game was released – to remember everything from the previous two titles would’ve been an impossible ask! I felt Luigi’s Mansion 3 was approachable and newbie-friendly.

The first title in the series was released in 2001 on the GameCube.

Nintendo’s first-party titles are almost always high quality. I didn’t encounter any bugs or glitches, and only a couple of very minor graphical issues. Luigi’s Mansion 3 looked decent even on my 4K television screen, and the Switch’s graphics in general are fantastic considering the console’s size and portability. With a file size of only a little over 6GB, Luigi’s Mansion 3 packs a lot into a small package – making it quick to download and easy to store even on the Switch’s limited internal storage.

Gameplay was fun, and offered several completely unique elements that I’ve never experienced in other titles. Luigi’s main weapon is his vacuum – the Poltergust G-00 – which makes a return from the two older titles, albeit in an updated form. This fun and unique weapon allows Luigi to tackle ghosts in a variety of ways, including slamming them into the ground, bashing them against each other, and firing a shockwave.

Gameplay was great fun.

The Poltergust can also be used to fire a plunger which can be used to interact with the environment. Though it does have applications in combat, the plunger shot was largely useful for navigating previously-blocked areas of the hotel as well as uncovering secrets and hidden items spread throughout the game world.

The addition of Gooigi – Luigi’s gooey doppelganger – made navigating levels much more interesting. Areas that Luigi couldn’t access on his own were easy for Gooigi to reach, and this had functionality both to advance the main story and for idle exploration and retrieving hidden gems. Having two playable characters with different abilities isn’t something new in video games, but Gooigi put a unique and fun spin on the concept, and came in handy on many different occasions!

Gooigi and Luigi.

Story-wise, Luigi’s Mansion 3 was pretty basic. That’s to be expected, though, and what story there was was done very well. These kinds of games don’t go all-in on big, believable narratives, and that’s absolutely fine. What mattered in Luigi’s Mansion 3 wasn’t really the story but the gameplay, and in that regard the game was an enjoyable experience.

Hellen Gravely was a King Boo superfan, and kind of a parody of a certain type of obsessive fan that I think we all see from time to time. Otherwise the story was a riff on a very familiar concept in the Super Mario series – a nefarious evil-doer has kidnapped someone special to our hero, and he must fight his way past the baddie’s minions, working his way up to defeating the big bad herself, in order to save them all.

Hellen Gravely, the game’s villain.

Trapping Mario and the others in paintings was itself a riff on the Super Mario 64 idea, at least on a superficial level, so in that sense nothing about the story of Luigi’s Mansion 3 was groundbreaking. What it did was put its own spin on a couple of existing concepts, then execute those ideas very well. As escapist entertainment it was perfectly enjoyable, and there was enough of a story to keep the game’s momentum going.

As someone who isn’t really into horror, what I liked about the setting was that it retained a spooky, creepy aesthetic, but kept things kid-friendly. I would wager that all but the most sensitive of children would be able to play and enjoy Luigi’s Mansion 3, and as a game to play in the run-up to Halloween I can hardly think of a better one! Striking the right balance in a game all about ghosts in a haunted hotel is a tricky task, and it would’ve been easy for the game to slip up and become scarier than intended. Luckily it avoided that particular pitfall.

I had fun with Luigi’s Mansion 3.

So Luigi’s Mansion 3 is an odd one for me. I failed in my mission to write up a full playthrough, but despite that I actually had fun with the game itself. The fact that it didn’t make for a good writing project is more to do with how I like to write and what I look for when it comes to writing up a full playthrough of a game. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is everything you’d want from a title of this nature.

I’ve been meaning to write this conclusion for a little while now, and October seemed like the right month once again! To those of you who tuned in for my Luigi’s Mansion 3 playthrough last year, thank you. I hope you enjoyed the pieces that I was able to write. Stick around, because I’ve got other ideas for playthroughs that – fingers crossed – will be more substantial!

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is out now for Nintendo Switch. The Super Mario franchise – including Luigi’s Mansion 3 and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten racetrack theme ideas for Mario Kart 9

With Nintendo planning a digital presentation for next month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo – more commonly known as E3 – rumours abound as to what they could talk about. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2? A new 3D Mario game? A new Donkey Kong title? Those are all contenders, and I would posit that Nintendo would be unlikely to put out a major E3 broadcast unless they had something big to say! But there’s still the prospect of a new Mario Kart game – something I’ve discussed on a couple of occasions already.

Super Mario Kart was released for the SNES in 1992, which means that next year will be the Mario Kart series’ 30th anniversary. In recent years we’ve seen a number of anniversary-themed events from Nintendo, and I can’t help but feel that they’ll do something to acknowledge Mario Kart. E3 would be the ideal time to announce Mario Kart 9, then, in time for the title to be released in the first half of next year!

Super Mario Kart turns 30 next year!

Maybe I’m wrong about that, though – and as I always like to say, I have no “insider information!” But regardless, it’s always fun to talk about the Mario Kart series and the prospects for a new title. Having already talked about a number of older racetracks I’d like to see come back, a roster of Nintendo characters who could be drivers, and even a handful of non-Nintendo characters who could join the fun, this time I want to talk about the possibilities for new racetracks – specifically, what theming Nintendo could use.

Past Mario Kart games had a number of Nintendo-themed tracks – such as Royal Raceway, based around Princess Peach’s castle, DK Mountain, which obviously pays homage to the jungle home of Donkey Kong, and of course the Bowser Castle tracks. But many Mario Kart titles also had more generic or non-Nintendo tracks too – things like Vanilla Lake, Choco Island, Sweet Sweet Canyon, and even Rainbow Road are all based less on specific Nintendo properties than just generic theming. My list will include a mix of both kinds of racetrack!

So let’s take a look, shall we?

Number 1: The museum from Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The upgraded museum as it appears in New Horizons.

A racetrack based around Animal Crossing: New Horizons seems like a given considering how popular the game has been since it launched! But rather than a generic island – or perhaps as well as one – I think a racetrack themed around New Horizons’ museum could be neat. I do still check in with my New Horizons island from time to time, partly because I still haven’t collected every last bug, fish, fossil and work of art! The museum is one of the game’s most interesting locations, and would make a fun setting for a racetrack.

Starting in the lobby, players would race through four areas: the bug room, fossil exhibit, art gallery, and aquarium. The aquarium offers the potential for underwater racing – if that feature is coming back in Mario Kart 9 – so there’d be at least two terrains as well as a variety of scenery! The higher levels of the museum would also offer space for jumps and tricks. But above all, it would be a different take on the expected “Animal Crossing island” track that I think would take a lot of folks by surprise.

Number 2: The Last Resort hotel from Luigi’s Mansion 3

The Last Resort hotel is the setting for Luigi’s Mansion 3.

I know, I know. My playthrough of Luigi’s Mansion 3, which I commenced in the run-up to last Halloween, still needs to be finished. And I will get around to it eventually! But for now, let’s consider how The Last Resort hotel could make for an amazing racetrack! The Mario Kart series has never shied away from spooky, ghostly racetracks, and given the popularity of Luigi’s Mansion 3 on Switch, incorporating it into Mario Kart 9 makes a lot of sense.

Players could start in the basement garage and race to the top in a one-way route broken into three segments. That would put a twist on several of the similar one-way downhill tracks in Mario Kart 8! Ghostly apparitions could make for interesting moving obstacles, and above all, the track would have the potential to be a lot of fun. There could certainly be jumps or aerial sections, though I’m not sure about racing underwater.

Number 3: A track based on the world of Minecraft

Promo screenshot for Minecraft.

This kind of ties into my idea of having Minecraft Steve as a playable racer! Minecraft has been popular on the Nintendo Switch – just as it has been on practically every other console – and considering that Nintendo and Microsoft have happily worked together to bring Minecraft Steve into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, why not go one step further and have a Minecraft-themed racetrack?

The open worlds of Minecraft have a multitude of biomes and terrains, and there’s scope for anti-gravity racing up cliffs or down deep caverns, underwater sections through seas and rivers, aerial sections jumping off mountains or into the sky – and that’s before we even get to the Nether or the End! There could even be a Minecraft cup with four racetracks based around this game – though maybe that’s a bit much!

Number 4: Bubblaine from Super Mario Odyssey

Remember when the internet went wild for Mario’s nipples? We live in strange times…

There’s bound to be at least one racetrack based on a location from Super Mario Odyssey in the next Mario Kart title, so I’d like to propose Bubblaine! The Mario Kart series has previously featured a number of beach-themed tracks, but this would be the first to be based on an actual level from a mainline game. There’s even the possibility for a track based on Bubblaine – or the other water level from Odyssey, Lake Lamode – to be fully underwater, with no above-water sections at all. That could make for an interesting twist!

I like beach-themed racetracks in Mario Kart. They’re relaxing and often have great music, and though Bubblaine wouldn’t necessarily be unique in the Mario Kart series, it could pick up the baton for beach racetracks.

Number 5: New Donk City from Super Mario Odyssey

New Donk City is home to Mayor Pauline!

New Donk City played a big role in the marketing campaign for Odyssey, and it seems at least possible that Nintendo would want to capitalise on the name and imagery for Mario Kart 9 as well. There have been urban racetracks in the Mario Kart series before but none quite like New Donk City.

Just like how street circuits like Monaco or Singapore are popular in Formula 1, the closed-in nature of New Donk City’s network of roads could make for a fun racetrack. With tall buildings to potentially jump from, and Mayor Pauline’s iconic song forming the basis for the soundtrack, this one has a lot of potential to be a fun – if slightly tricky – racetrack!

Number 6: The Galar Region from Pokémon Sword & Shield

A promo screenshot of a city in the Galar Region.

I’ve never played a Pokémon game. Make of that what you will! But Pokémon Sword & Shield have been successful on the Nintendo Switch – despite the so-called “Dexit” controversy the games generated! Although Pokémon has always been a franchise strongly associated with Nintendo, no Pokémon characters or locales have appeared in the Mario Kart series – at least, not yet.

I don’t know too much about the Galar Region other than it’s based on my native United Kingdom, but that in itself could make for a fun concept for British Nintendo fans! There have been some Pokémon characters included in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, so it’s not impossible to think that a crossover between two of Nintendo’s biggest exclusive properties is on the cards.

Number 7: The city of Kyoto, Japan

A dark street in the city of Kyoto.

Now we’re leaving the realm of video games behind to look at some racetrack themes from the real world. Kyoto – which was the capital city of Japan for more than 1,000 years before it moved to Tokyo – is where Nintendo is headquartered. Many of the company’s developers live and work in the city, and know it intimately. It could be a lot of fun for them – and for us as players – to bring the city to life as the basis of a racetrack.

A Japanese-themed racetrack is a win-win for any Mario Kart title in many ways. The game’s Japanese audience would be pleased to see a representation of their home, and there are many in the west who love all things Japanese and would be equally thrilled. Kyoto makes a lot of sense because of its connection to Nintendo, and we could see recreations of famous landmarks like the Imperial Palace, To-Ji Temple, Kyoto Tower, and Teramachi Street.

Number 8: A food-themed racetrack

Looks yummy!

Choco Island and Choco Mountain, which appeared in Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64 respectively, kicked off a trend of Nintendo including at least one racetrack with a food theme in most mainline Mario Kart games. In addition to chocolate we’ve had the likes of Cheese Land and Sweet Sweet Canyon. It would be great to keep this trend going with another foody track, perhaps one based around Japanese cuisine?

A restaurant could make for a fun setting, and would allow shrunk-down racers to drive through the kitchen, into the dining room, across tabletops, past plates of food, and so on. Mario Kart has always been a series which is happy to set logic aside when it comes to theming, so why not?

Number 9: Ice or a glacier

Ice and snow have appeared a lot in Mario Kart.

There have been plenty of snow- and ice-themed tracks in past Mario Kart games, and I’m sure the next entry in the series will bring at least one to the table. There’s scope for a track set on a glacier to have an environmental theme, especially if the glacier were melting! Perhaps each lap could see more and more of the glacier melt away, until the final lap has players racing through a track that’s more water than ice.

Regardless, snow and ice are tricky surfaces to race on, and can be made to feel extra slippery under the wheels of players’ karts. This alone makes them fun and challenging in equal measure, and I hope there’ll be at least one track with this kind of icy, wintry theme in Mario Kart 9.

Number 10: An alpine or mountain stage

A picture-perfect Alpine village and lake.

The famous cycling races Tour de France and Giro d’Italia both run stages through the Alps, and it’s something along those lines that I’m thinking of here. Mountainous racetracks in Mario Kart tend to either be snowy or have some other theming, but I quite like the idea of racing along past a mountain village, pine trees, and the like, in a track with an alpine setting.

The Alps border several countries, including France, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria, so elements from those cultures could be incorporated into the theming of the track. This could also be a one-way track divided into segments instead of a loop to run laps around.

So that’s it. Ten theme ideas for Mario Kart 9 racetracks!

Still the best version of Rainbow Road… change my mind!

Because Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just a port of a Wii U game, there hasn’t been an original Mario Kart title released for the Nintendo Switch yet. I know that’s kind of splitting hairs, but it provides a small amount of hope that we’ll see another title in the fun kart racing series before this generation is over. The Switch should still have several years’ of life left, so if we don’t get Mario Kart 9 this generation it could be a while before we see it.

I’m hopeful, then, of a new Mario Kart game sometime soon. Whether it will be announced at E3, or whether it will be connected to the 30th anniversary of the series are just guesses on my part – but I think both are educated guesses. It makes sense to me, at any rate!

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out now on Nintendo Switch. All other titles and properties mentioned above are copyright of Nintendo or their respective studio, developer, publisher, and/or owner. Some screenshots and promo artwork courtesy of the Mario Wiki. Some stock images courtesy of Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten non-Nintendo characters who (probably won’t) appear in Mario Kart 9!

A few days ago I had a lot of fun putting together a short list of (mostly) Nintendo characters who I think should appear in Mario Kart 9 – whenever that game may come! As a follow-up, I thought it could be interesting to consider a few characters from outside of Nintendo’s walled garden who could also join the fun. If you’d like to check out the original list, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Mario Kart 8 and later Mario Kart 8 Deluxe pushed the boat out as far as the roster of drivers is concerned, including characters from outside of the Super Mario series for the first time, including Link from The Legend of Zelda series, Isabelle from Animal Crossing, and two characters from the Splatoon games. However, it would be a first for the series to include non-Nintendo characters!

Isabelle, from the Animal Crossing series, is a driver in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Although the Mario Kart games haven’t done so yet, Nintendo has proved itself willing to open up to other companies’ franchises and characters in recent years. We’ve seen Minecraft Steve, for example, as well as characters from the Castlevania, Persona, and Dragon Quest series appear in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Switch, so I think that demonstrates a willingness on Nintendo’s part to think outside the box when it comes to characters in popular titles.

Whether it will happen, though, is completely unknown! And to reiterate what I always say: this is pure guesswork and a wishlist from a fan, nothing more. I’m not claiming to know for a fact that any characters listed below will appear in Mario Kart 9 – or even if such a game is currently in development. With the 30th anniversary of the Mario Kart series coming up in 2022 I think it’s possible that we might see a new game, but even that’s just a guess on my part!

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the list!

Number 1: Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega)

Sonic as he appears in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020.

Of all the characters on this list, Sonic is arguably the most likely to crop up in Mario Kart 9. Not only is he a character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but there have been a number of Nintendo games over the last decade or more in which he’s been prominently featured. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games in 2007 marked his debut alongside Mario, and since then the duo have appeared together in five more Olympic-themed titles.

It would’ve seemed unthinkable in the ’90s for Mario and Sonic to appear together; they were the mascots of competing companies! It was only when Sega retired from manufacturing their own consoles shortly after the millennium that Sonic appearing on Nintendo hardware was even a possibility, but he’s since become a mainstay. He’d make for a fantastic character, and having already featured in his own kart racer, he definitely knows a thing or two about driving!

Number 2: Pac-Man (Bandai Namco)

A 3D rendering of Pac-Man from 1999’s Pac-Man World.

Another character who appeared in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Pac-Man is a gaming icon from the medium’s early days. Originally an arcade game created in 1980, Pac-Man spawned a whole host of titles in a series that continues to this day. Though the games have no real story or plot, Pac-Man was arguably one of the first video game characters, and was, for a time, symbolic of the games industry as a whole. His simple design became iconic, and even today Pac-Man is instantly recognisable.

As with Sonic above, even a few years ago the idea of a collaboration between Nintendo and Pac-Man (short of licensing one of the games to their consoles) wouldn’t have seemed possible. But as companies continue to pool their resources and work together, it could make a lot of sense for both Nintendo and Bandai Namco (or should that be Bando Namcai?) to bring Pac-Man to Mario Kart 9.

Number 3: Fall Guy (Epic Games/Mediatonic)

Three Fall Guys seen in a recent Nintendo Direct.

If I’d been in charge of the development of cute obstacle course/battle royale title Fall Guys, I would have prioritised a Nintendo Switch release. Regardless, the title is finally going to be released on Nintendo’s console, months after it’s PC and PlayStation 4 debut. The Fall Guys themselves are adorable little jelly bean characters with a huge variety of costumes, and their cartoon aesthetic would fit perfectly with Nintendo’s long-running kart racing series.

The recent Epic Games buyout may complicate matters, but with Fall Guys coming to Switch I really feel it has a shot at being successful on that platform – especially if Mediatonic can get cross-platform play up and running. If the game is a hit, bringing a Fall Guy to Mario Kart 9 would be fantastic, and something Nintendo could absolutely consider doing. It would arguably benefit Fall Guys more, with the character’s inclusion serving almost as advertising, but that should just be an incentive for Epic Games to allow this crossover to go ahead!

Number 4: Master Chief (Microsoft)

The Master Chief in Halo: The Master Chief Collection concept art.

The inclusion of Minecraft Steve in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate shows that Microsoft is quite happy to work with Nintendo, and a number of their recent moves – like their partnership with EA – have opened up the possibility of further collaborations and crossovers with big games companies. With that in mind, could the Halo series’ iconic protagonist end up as a racer?

Halo games, as first-person shooters, are quite violent, so perhaps Nintendo would opt not to include such characters for the sake of keeping the game family-friendly. But Master Chief’s design isn’t aggressive or scary, and I think he could be made to fit. It would be a fun collaboration between two of modern gaming’s big powerhouses.

Number 5: Doom Guy (Bethesda/Microsoft)

Doom Eternal promotional artwork featuring the character known as Doom Guy.

Though visually similar in some respects to the Master Chief, Doom Guy has a surprising history with Nintendo. Not only was Doom 64 a Nintendo 64 exclusive in 1997, but last year saw a bizarre yet strangely wholesome internet-inspired team-up with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. In short, Doom Eternal shared a release date with New Horizons, and because of the polar opposite nature of the games, fans began ironically pairing up Doom Guy with Animal Crossing characters – notably Isabelle.

Nintendo could take advantage of the memes and jokes by bringing Doom Guy into Mario Kart 9. On the surface, maybe he isn’t a great fit for the series. But there’s nothing offensive about his character design, and if last year’s fan art showed us one thing, it’s that Doom Guy can be made to look adorable and cartoonified!

Number 6: Two Point Hospital Doctor or Nurse (Sega)

Two doctors and a nurse.

Two Point Hospital is a spiritual successor to 1997’s Theme Hospital, a classic of the “tycoon” genre. It was ported to the Nintendo Switch last year after releasing for PC in 2018, and has gone on to be a surprising success on the platform. As with many tycoon games there isn’t really one principal character to pick out, but a generic doctor and/or nurse could be a fun addition to Mario Kart 9.

One of the great things about Two Point Hospital is its cartoon aesthetic; a deliberate choice that mimics the title’s origins in tycoon games of the 1990s. That look just happens to be perfect for the Mario Kart series, which means a Two Point Hospital character would be a natural fit.

Number 7: A Palico (Capcom)

A Palico as seen in the trailer for Monster Hunter Rise.

I’ll let you in on a secret: the Monster Hunter series has never seemed like my thing. The latest title in the series, Monster Hunter Rise, is available for Nintendo Switch, but despite loving the visual style, the core gameplay of hunting and killing so-called “monsters” – which seem to be docile animals living their own lives not troubling anybody – holds absolutely no appeal to me!

Regardless, the latest title is a big hit on Switch, and Palicoes are cute little felines or cat-like characters that accompany the player character during the game. It seems like this kind of cute critter would be a perfect fit for Mario Kart 9 – even if I don’t personally care for the game they originate from!

Number 8: Zagreus (Supergiant Games)

Promotional art for Hades featuring Zagreus.

Hades has to be one of the best indie games I’ve played in recent years, and was recently featured in a Nintendo Direct presentation as the game is getting a full physical release (i.e. on a game cartridge) for Switch. It’s an absolute blast, and if you haven’t tried it I can’t recommend it enough – if you’re okay with a game in which you die over and over again!

Zagreus, son of Hades, is the game’s protagonist, adapted from the character present in Ancient Greek mythology. His anime-inspired style is… well let’s just say I’m not an anime fan. But as a character he’s interesting and fun to root for in Hades, and with some minor adaptations I’m sure he could fit in with the rest of the racers!

Number 9: Ori and Sein (Microsoft/Moon Studios)

Ori and Sein in Ori and the Blind Forest.

I’d almost forgotten that both Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps had been ported to the Nintendo Switch, but both games were a good fit for Nintendo’s platform and seem to have sold reasonably well. This entry is technically two characters, but they could be rolled into a single racer as Sein’s design might not lend itself to being an independent driver!

The Ori games are surprisingly sweet but also challenging in places, and Ori would certainly fit right in with the Mario Kart series from an aesthetic point of view. It would be great to see the Ori series, which already has a Switch presence, join up with Nintendo for an additional collaboration!

Number 10: Geralt of Rivia (CD Projekt Red)

Geralt as he appears on the box art of The Witcher 3.

Though I still haven’t played The Witcher 3 – or the prior two entries in the series, come to that – it’s held up as one of the best games of the last ten years, and protagonist Geralt of Rivia has since cropped up in a couple of unexpected places! Perhaps his next adventure could be joining Mario and friends for a go-kart race?

The Witcher 3 was one of the most ambitious titles to bring to the Nintendo Switch, considering the size and complexity of the game, but by all accounts it’s a solid port. A lot of folks have been enjoying taking Geralt with them to play on the go, and his recent appearance in Soul Calibur VI shows that CD Projekt Red are clearly amenable to collaborating with other companies. He would be a strange choice, perhaps, but a lot of fun nevertheless!

Bonus: Battle-Cars (Epic Games)

Promotional art for Rocket League showing two Battle-Cars.

One of the most surprising things in Mario Kart 8 was the inclusion of Mercedes-Benz car parts, as part of a deal Nintendo struck with the famous car manufacturer! We could absolutely consider other manufacturers or vehicles that would be cute to see in the next Mario Kart game, but for now I thought it could be fun if Nintendo could team up with one of the other top car games out there – Rocket League!

I’m atrocious at Rocket League and have been since the first time I played, but the game is a lot of fun. A buyout by Epic Games saw the title move to a free-to-play model, which has been good in some ways. There are a number of different vehicle styles, and any could be adapted to make a fun kart in Mario Kart 9. Perhaps three or four different styles would be enough so as not to overwhelm the title!

So that’s it. Ten characters – and one bonus set of vehicles – that Mario Kart 9 should – but most likely won’t – include!

Is a new Mario Kart title in the works?

If I’m right that Nintendo plans to do something next year to mark the series’ 30th anniversary, a new game would be top of the list. And in the spirit of celebration, bringing a whole roster of characters from across gaming to join one big Mario Kart party would be a great thing for Nintendo to do. Some characters that Nintendo has worked with in the past, like Sonic the Hedgehog, seem far more likely than others, but it would benefit practically every company involved in the games industry to allow Nintendo to license one or two of their characters. After all, it’s a fantastic advertisement for the game they’re originally from!

I’ve been a huge Mario Kart fan since I first sat down to play Super Mario Kart in 1993 or 1994, back when I owned a SNES. That title only had eight racers to choose from, and the series has come a long way since then – while managing to retain the fun. As games got better and I played the likes of Shenmue and Knights of the Old Republic I began to favour titles with a strong focus on story; there are few titles I considered fun for their gameplay alone. The Mario Kart series has always been one of them! Whatever happens next year, and whenever Mario Kart 9 may come, I hope Nintendo try to bring in some new and different faces.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out now for Nintendo Switch, and is the copyright of Nintendo. All characters mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promo art courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is the Mario anniversary game I should’ve bought!

Nintendo showed off two big projects last year to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Super Mario franchise: Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury. Perhaps pushed by the awful forced scarcity of Super Mario 3D All-Stars – which was removed from sale arbitrarily last month – but also excited at the prospect of replaying Super Mario 64, that was the game I picked up on release day. And it was an underwhelming experience; £50 not particularly well-spent.

Don’t get me wrong, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is okay, and for someone who’s never played any of the games included I could recommend it under some circumstances. All three games work, and there have been some very minor improvements to the way Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy look. But that’s all you got for £50 – three games, the newest of which is from 2007, slightly tweaked. Super Mario 64, one of my favourite games of all time and the title I was most excited to replay, looks pretty crappy in the 3D All-Stars collection, with a strange frame resolution that leaves black bars around all four sides of the screen. They couldn’t even get it to fit the screen top to bottom! Even an emulator can manage that!

The pretty crappy way Super Mario 64 looks in the 3D All-Stars collection is disappointing and a little offputting.

So I was unimpressed with the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection, and it’s the one game in the last couple of years that I genuinely regret purchasing. I broke my own rule about day-one purchases, and picked it up without waiting to see any reviews or gameplay assuming that Super Mario 64 alone would make it worthwhile. Given that the version of Super Mario 64 is itself underwhelming, the entire collection felt disappointing and was certainly very overpriced.

The other Mario game announced for the 35th anniversary was Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury. 3D World had been a Wii U title, so this is a port, but Bowser’s Fury is entirely new. Even though it’s been out for a couple of months now I avoided picking it up. I don’t have an unlimited budget for video games – or anything else, come to that – and after my recent disappointing experience with Super Mario 3D All-Stars I was not overly keen on spending more money on another Mario title. But earlier this week I got a reasonable deal on a second-hand copy and decided to give it a shot.

Cat Mario is just too cute!

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is unquestionably the title I should’ve picked up instead of Super Mario 3D All-Stars. It’s superior in practically every respect. The Wii U gameplay has been perfectly ported to the Switch, and while it perhaps doesn’t look quite as shiny as Super Mario Odyssey, it’s a perfectly acceptable 3D platformer with a cute Mario aesthetic that matches the rest of the franchise. And the cat costumes are just so adorable – I’m a cat owner (I have four) and I love practically anything cat-themed!

Bowser’s Fury is a brand-new mode made for the Switch. To call it a “mode” is a bit uncharitable, as Bowser’s Fury could just as easily be a standalone game in its own right. Perhaps not a full-priced one, as it’s relatively short, but it easily stands up against other Switch titles in terms of how much fun it is to play. The new addition adds a lot to Super Mario 3D World, elevating the experience of the original Wii U title. And it’s fair to say that, without Bowser’s Fury, Super Mario 3D World on its own would be a harder sell – especially for someone like me who’s already played it.

Bowser doesn’t look happy…

Gameplay-wise, Nintendo’s expected high quality is present, with no major bugs, glitches, or crashes getting in the way. And I’m having fun playing Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, which I really haven’t been able to say about the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection.

Nintendo have had some great successes since the Switch launched in 2017. It seems clear to me, though, that the 35th anniversary of the Super Mario franchise was originally supposed to be bigger. Bowser’s Fury is really the only new game that’s been part of the celebration, and while we know that Nintendo suffered a lot of production delays due to the pandemic, that doesn’t account for all of it. Super Mario 3D All-Stars felt rushed; a collection cobbled together at the last minute perhaps because Bowser’s Fury wasn’t ready.

Promo screenshot for Bowser’s Fury.

Unfortunately, talk of a new or updated “Switch Pro” is hanging over Nintendo at the moment. Having ported over the main Mario games present on the Wii U, now could have been the time for the company to build on the successes of Super Mario Odyssey and now Bowser’s Fury, launching new titles in the franchise. With the 30th anniversary of Mario Kart coming next year, perhaps a new title in that series could be in the offing. But this rumour of a potential new console needs to be cleared up as soon as possible – fans need to know what they can expect from Nintendo in the short-to-medium term.

Bowser’s Fury takes advantage of the Switch’s hardware to do things that Super Mario 3D World couldn’t have managed on the Wii U. And that offers a pathway forward; an opportunity to build on its successes and develop new titles in the series for the current console. With the number of units sold rapidly approaching the numbers Nintendo saw with the Wii, shifting focus to new hardware now seems positively stupid. The Switch easily has four or five years’ of life left in it at the very least, and there should be many more games in the vein of Bowser’s Fury to come. I hope this talk of a new console or a variant which will have exclusive titles can be put to bed ASAP so Nintendo fans can focus on enjoying the current system to its fullest.

Cat Peach, Toad, Mario, and Cat Luigi.

For my money, Bowser’s Fury makes Super Mario 3D World worth the buy. If you weren’t one of the nine people besides me who owned a Wii U a few years ago, the base game is also great and will be new to you as well. On its own, Super Mario 3D World isn’t as good as Super Mario Odyssey, but it’s a solid title in its own right. The cat suits which are the game’s big new feature are more than just a visual gimmick, as the power-up they offer does change the way Mario (and the other characters) interact with the game world.

I don’t have any friends to sit down with on the couch and play Super Mario 3D World with. Wait, that sounds sad! What I mean is that the game offers a multiplayer mode for up to four players, and while I haven’t been able to take advantage of that for myself, if you have people to play with, you’ll get a classic-feeling Super Mario experience that can be enjoyed together.

I was left disappointed last year with Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Nintendo’s anniversary of the Super Mario series. But it turns out that I just bought the wrong game. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is an appropriate celebration of Nintendo’s mascot and his 35th birthday, and I’m glad to have picked it up.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury was developed and published by Nintendo and is out now for Nintendo Switch. The Super Mario franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fifteen Nintendo characters who NEED to be part of Mario Kart 9

A while ago I took a look at some racetracks from past Mario Kart games that I’d love to see return in Mario Kart 9 – whether that game ends up coming to the Nintendo Switch or whether it’s not made until a new console is out. This time I want to look at some characters from other Nintendo games (and a couple of non-Nintendo games) who would be amazing to add to the roster of drivers in Mario Kart 9. There are so many fun characters that have been created over the years, and with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe expanding the list, why not go all-in and add these ones too?

For the purposes of this list I’m assuming that all of the characters from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will be returning. After all, why wouldn’t they? So I’m not including anyone on my list who was part of the most recent entry in the series! Instead I want to focus on characters who’ve never been playable in Mario Kart.

Mario Kart 64′s Rainbow Road is one of my all-time favourite tracks!

In 1993 or 1994 I first played Super Mario Kart on the SNES. From almost the first moment I was hooked, and had great fun with the cute, silly kart racer. It even prompted me to try go-karting for myself, which was a fun experience! I’ve been fortunate enough to play every Mario Kart game to date – some more than others – on their original hardware, and while it would be unprecedented for Nintendo to launch a second Mario Kart game on the same console, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just a port of the Wii U title. Maybe that means Mario Kart 9 is closer than we think!

Next year will be the 30th anniversary of Super Mario Kart’s 1992 release, and thus the 30th anniversary of the entire Mario Kart series. Given Nintendo’s love (bordering on a fetish, really!) of anniversaries and anniversary events, perhaps some kind of celebration is on the cards. Maybe they’re even working on releasing Mario Kart 9 in time for the 30th anniversary!

Nintendo recently launched the (underwhelming) Super Mario 3D All-Stars for Mario’s 35th anniversary. Might a new game be planned for Mario Kart’s 30th?

Who’s your favourite Mario Kart racer? Ever since their first appearance in Mario Kart Wii, mine has been Dry Bones – the skeleton koopa troopa. He’s just so cute! I even have a figure and a plush toy of him somewhere in my collection! But there are many wonderful characters in the various Mario Kart games, and several different versions of some of the big ones. Mario, for example, has a baby version, a metal version, a gold version, and even a tanooki version! While there are some great characters to play with already, I can still think of more!

My usual caveat applies: I have no “insider information.” I don’t know if or when Mario Kart 9 will be released, whether it will come out on the Switch, or which characters may or may not be included. This is simply a wishlist from a fan of the series – nothing more!

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the list!

Number 1: Tom Nook

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is second only to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the all-time bestseller list for the Switch, and with the huge popularity of the game, it makes a lot of sense to include more Animal Crossing critters in Mario Kart 9. Isabelle and a generic Villager are already present, but it would be amazing to see Animal Crossing mainstay – and everyone’s tanooki best friend – Tom Nook join the lineup.

As with all Animal Crossing characters, Tom Nook has a unique, cartoonish look that’s perfect for Mario Kart. No changes would be needed to the way he looks, and it would be possible to have several different outfits for him, including seasonal variants and even holiday-themed ones, based on his different outfits in New Horizons.

Number 2: K.K. Slider

Sticking with Animal Crossing, while there are plenty of characters who could join Tom Nook, few are more emblematic of the series than musician K.K. Slider. A regular visitor to players’ islands in New Horizons, the laid-back dog could take a break from jammin’ and join a kart race! I didn’t know this until recently, because I always felt K.K. Slider’s “songs” were a bit of a joke, but he has a real-world following. People actually enjoy listening to his music. Funny old world, eh?

There’s scope to add other Animal Crossing critters too, but most of the remaining mainstays – Timmy and Tommy, Sable and Mabel, etc. – come as part of a set, and it would be hard to include one but not others.

Number 3: Fox McCloud (a.k.a. Star Fox)

Back in the SNES days I adored Star Fox, Nintendo’s animal-themed space shooter! It was one of the first games I picked up for the console, drawn in simply by the box art as I was a huge fan of anything to do with space and sci-fi. Fox has recently appeared alongside Mario in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but has never made an appearance in Mario Kart. As a pilot, surely he’d be a good driver!

The Star Fox franchise has felt underappreciated by Nintendo, with no new entry since 2016’s Star Fox Zero. Bringing back the series’ protagonist in a sure-fire hit like Mario Kart 9 could lead to a resurgence in popularity, with perhaps a new Star Fox game in the offing.

Number 4: A Goomba

The Mario Kart games have included many of Mario’s iconic adversaries as playable characters, going all the way back to the inclusion of Bowser and Koopa Troopa in Super Mario Kart. But Goombas have only ever appeared as obstacles on racetracks, never as a playable character. That wrong needs to be righted, and players should be able to finally give Goombas a break!

With so many other iconic Mario villains having had a turn in the spotlight, it would be really sweet to see a Goomba in the driver’s seat for once.

Number 5: Samus Aran

The only Metroid game I’ve ever played was Super Metroid on the SNES – though I did briefly toy with Metroid Prime on a friend’s GameCube. But there’s no denying that Samus, the series’ protagonist, is an iconic Nintendo character in her own right. Samus was actually one of the first female playable characters in all of gaming, with the reveal at the end of the first Metroid game in 1986 being a truly stunning moment for players!

Samus has been a regular fighter alongside Mario in the Super Smash Bros. games, but has yet to appear in Mario Kart. With characters beaming in from other franchises already, perhaps it’s time to fix that!

Number 6: The Animal Friends

This is a total cheat since it’s really a few separate characters, but I love them all so I couldn’t just choose one! Beginning in 1993’s Donkey Kong Country, DK has been able to call on various animals to aid him in his quest. Among my favourites are Expresso the Ostrich, Enguarde the Swordfish, and of course the iconic Rambi the Rhino!

Obviously the Mario Kart series would have a hard time including all of them, but it would be great to see at least a couple of these fan-favourites join the roster of drivers. Plus I think we’d all like to see how a swordfish could possibly drive a go-kart, and I think it’s worth doing for that reason alone!

Number 7: Chunky Kong

Sticking with the Donkey Kong series, DK’s cousin Chunky was introduced in Donkey Kong 64 but has only made minor cameo appearances since. He would obviously be one of the heavyweight drivers, alongside his cousin and the likes of Bowser, and that could be neat. Despite its lesser status among Nintendo titles, I really enjoyed what Donkey Kong 64 brought to the table, and it would be great to welcome back a character who hasn’t been seen since.

Chunky, despite his stature, had a very timid, almost cowardly personality, and that could be incorporated into his persona in Mario Kart 9 as well.

Number 8: A Thwomp

Another iconic Mario villain that has only appeared in Mario Kart as an obstacle, it would be really fun to see one of these sentient boulders get a turn behind the wheel! Thwomps have been part of Mario Kart going back to the SNES, and they make for difficult obstacles, especially for new players.

In recent years we’ve seen Thwomps included in many Mario titles, and they’ve become emblematic of the kind of opponents Mario faces on his adventures, along with Bowser, Koopas, and Goombas.

Number 9: Professor E. Gadd

Later in the year I hope to get back to writing up my playthrough of Luigi’s Mansion 3 – something I aimed to do last Halloween but never finished! Professor E. Gadd is Luigi’s ally in the Luigi’s Mansion games, setting up players with ghost-busting equipment and helping out as Luigi battles spooky spirits.

Despite the popularity of Luigi’s Mansion 3, we’ve only ever seen a couple of minor cameos outside of the main series. Bringing the professor into Mario Kart 9 would finally give him a major role!

Number 10: Hellen Gravely

Sticking with Luigi’s Mansion 3, bringing in the character who I assume is one of the game’s big bosses would be fantastic as well! Hellen Gravely worked with King Boo to kidnap Mario along with Luigi’s other friends at the start of Luigi’s Mansion 3, and she would make for an interesting racer! There aren’t that many female drivers in the Mario Kart series, and someone like Hellen Gravely would be a contrast to the likes of Princess Peach and Rosalina.

Just don’t tell me how Luigi’s Mansion 3 ends… I still need to finish it!

Number 11: Dorrie (a.k.a. the “Swimming Beast”)

Dorrie first appeared in Super Mario 64 as a friendly “Loch Ness Monster” type of critter, and has recently been seen in Super Mario Odyssey as well. Though Dorrie is far larger than the other racers, perhaps they could be scaled down to fit in a standard kart! Ever since Mario 64 I’ve liked the cute, Nessie-inspired design, and bringing Dorrie into Mario Kart 9 could be a ton of fun.

If racers with no hands like King Boo or Wiggler can drive karts, who says Dorrie can’t?

Number 12: Minecraft Steve

I know, I know. Minecraft isn’t strictly a Nintendo game (it’s owned by Microsoft) but it’s one of the most popular titles on the Switch, and retains a huge playerbase even as it approaches its tenth anniversary. Steve – the game’s silent protagonist – has appeared in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, so clearly Microsoft are happy to collaborate with Nintendo in these cases!

Bringing an “outsider” like Minecraft Steve into Mario Kart 9 would really expand what the game is all about, and if it’s going to be connected to the 30th anniversary, that kind of celebration vibe could be perfect.

Number 13: Among Us Crewmate

Another non-Nintendo character from a hugely popular title, if Mario Kart 9 pushes the boat out and brings in a lot of drivers from different franchises, taking advantage of the current popularity of Among Us could be worthwhile. An Among Us costume is available in Fall Guys – which is itself coming to Switch this summer – so publisher InnerSloth are clearly willing to collaborate!

Among Us has proven itself to have staying power; it wasn’t just a fad that burned out quickly. If Mario Kart 9 is coming up any time in the next couple of years, it stands to reason Among Us will still be around, so a collaboration could make a lot of sense.

Number 14: Mayor Pauline

In the run-up to the launch of the Switch and Super Mario Odyssey, Pauline’s song Jump Up Superstar! was a huge part of Nintendo’s marketing push. Pauline also appears in the game itself as the mayor of New Donk City, one of the worlds Mario traverses. Pauline is based on the original “damsel in distress” seen in 1981’s Donkey Kong.

Pauline has recently been a playable character in Mario Tennis Aces, so clearly Nintendo have her in mind as a character to use in future. Bringing her into Mario Kart 9 just feels like a natural fit!

Number 15: Cappy

Speaking of Super Mario Odyssey, how could we possibly exclude Cappy? Mario’s ally – and hat – in Odyssey is a perfect character to include in Mario Kart 9! Most Mario Kart titles have drawn on the latest Super Mario games for inspiration, and including Cappy feels like an absolute no-brainer.

Cappy was a new character created for Odyssey, and thus hasn’t had an opportunity to make any major appearances outside of that game… at least, not yet!

So that’s it. Fifteen characters I’d love to see included in Mario Kart 9.

Mario Kart 7 was a huge hit on the Nintendo 3DS.

Even with the 30th anniversary coming up next year, Mario Kart 9 could still be a long way off – we simply don’t know at this stage what Nintendo’s plans are for the next few years. There have been rumours of a wholly new console, despite the Switch being barely four years old at this point, and while I think that would be a mistake, it’s possible Nintendo plans to go down that route.

The Switch has been Nintendo’s roaring comeback after the failure of the Wii U, and that’s been great to see. Even though their paid online model is pretty crappy, and cut off a previously-free online mode for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the Switch overall has been a resounding success. Mario Kart 9 would just be the icing on the cake.

The Mario Kart series – including all games mentioned above, as well as all individual racetracks, characters, and other properties – is the copyright of Nintendo. Some screenshots courtesy of the Super Mario Wiki. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Yesterday’s Nintendo Direct – reaction

Nintendo struck gold with their Nintendo Direct broadcasts a few years ago, advertising their upcoming games straight to their biggest fans. Nintendo Direct broadcasts have become one of the premiere events in games marketing, and the format has been emulated by a number of other companies – especially with the pandemic forcing the cancellation of big events like E3.

Yesterday’s Nintendo Direct was the first major broadcast that the company has done in some time, though. Over the last year or so, Nintendo Directs have focused either on third-party titles being ported to the Switch or on single games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This one promised to be different, showing off Nintendo’s plans for the first half of 2021.

The pre-Direct spiel sounded interesting.

2021 is an interesting year for Nintendo. The company has often used the anniversaries of major releases as the springboard for themed events, and this year marks a number of such anniversaries. The Legend of Zelda was released in 1986, making this year the series’ 35th anniversary. Additionally, it marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Nintendo 64 – along with the 25th anniversaries of such classics as Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, Wave Race 64, and even Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. As you may recall, I’ve never been all that interested in the Zelda series, but I was very curious to see if there would be any mention of the Nintendo 64’s anniversary.

2021 is also the 20th anniversary of the launch of the GameCube – and with it such titles as Luigi’s Mansion and Super Smash Bros. Melee. The Wii launched in 2006, making this year the console’s 15th anniversary… so you get the picture. There are potentially a lot of anniversary-themed events coming from Nintendo!

It’s Mario Kart 64′s 25th anniversary later this year.

My most recent experience with a Nintendo game was underwhelming. Super Mario 3D All-Stars was fine… but not great. Nintendo’s approach to only release the game for a limited time meant that I rushed to pre-order it, but on reflection I wish I hadn’t. The version of Super Mario 64 contained in that package is actually worse in some ways than either the original or emulated versions – it has a weird aspect ratio meaning that, whether you play in handheld mode or docked, you’re stuck with thick black bars on all four sides of the screen. It’s really offputting.

But we’ve drifted off-topic! I went into yesterday’s Nintendo Direct with cautious interest but no plans to rush into a purchase or pre-order. However, with Nintendo’s predilection for anniversaries and the rumours of news about Mario and/or Zelda, plus the fifty-minute advertised runtime, I was expecting at least something of note.

Senior Nintendo manager Shinya Takahashi presented yesterday’s Nintendo Direct.

There were a few points of interest, but nothing that blew me away. This kind of “event” broadcast can be a double-edged sword for Nintendo, because on the one hand there was a lot of hype and interest over the last couple of days – but that hype can come crashing down if expectations are not met. And while I would say that, from my point of view, what was shown off was perfectly fine, there was nothing spectacular or that felt like an immediate must-buy. Fans expecting to hear about Breath of the Wild 2 or a big Zelda or Mario event will have certainly come away disappointed.

So let’s get into the announcements that were of interest to me. First, Fall Guys is finally making its way to the Switch! I suggested way back in August when I first played the game that it would be an absolutely perfect fit for the Switch, and I’m so glad to see developers Mediatonic agreed. The Switch has an install base of some 60+ million players, many of whom are interested in this kind of fun, pick-up-and-play title. I’ve recently got back into playing Fall Guys just in the last couple of weeks, and I’m seriously considering getting the Switch version too. The only downside is that Fall Guys will require Nintendo’s paid Switch Online service.

Fall Guys is coming to the Switch.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is getting a number of Super Mario-themed items. This is something that fans of the game had been expecting; a Mario crossover had been teased as early as last year. But from what we saw in the broadcast the items look like fun, and they’re all very much on theme! Earlier Animal Crossing titles had Nintendo- and Mario-themed items included, so this is one more missing feature that has been re-added rather than something altogether new – but that’s been a pattern with New Horizons since it was launched. My first impression was that the items look very similar to those in Super Mario 3D World – the remaster of which has just been released for Switch. Perhaps that is not a coincidence!

I’ve never tried the Splatoon games, though they’ve always looked like fun. Nintendo opted to use Splatoon 3 as the broadcast’s big finale – I’m not sure how well that worked given that the game isn’t coming until 2022, and that it’s very much a second-tier series in the Nintendo library. But it looks like more of the same – another fun game in what is held up as a fun series.

Splatoon 3 was announced… but it isn’t going to be released for a while yet.

Speaking of 2022, there were several titles discussed or shown off that were coming either much later this year or not till next year. Ordinarily I wouldn’t remark on something like that, but the pre-broadcast statement (which you can see above) said explicitly that what would be shown off were games coming in “the first half of 2021.” Why set that expectation only to break it? If they had said “coming soon,” or something like that, there’d be no reason to comment. It just struck me as a little odd.

A notable port was that of battle royale first-person shooter Apex Legends. I’m not convinced Apex Legends will find a huge Switch audience, but if it allows players to sign in using their existing account then perhaps being able to play on the go will prove popular – as it has with other titles already. Hades, one of the best indie titles of last year, was already available digitally on the Switch but is now getting a physical release too. Hades was already a great fit for the Switch, and Nintendo’s console with its cartridge system is the one remaining place in gaming where physical copies of games are still widely popular!

Indie game Hades is getting a physical release.

Mario Golf: Super Rush is the latest in a long line of Mario sports titles, and looks like fun. Its Wii-like motion controls (using the Joy-con controllers) will surely win it some praise, and these arcade-style sports games are usually well-received, especially on Nintendo hardware. That was the only new Mario title announced. As for the Zelda series, after the director sought to reassure fans that Breath of the Wild 2 is coming along nicely, the Zelda series was treated to a remaster of Skyward Sword – which originally released in 2011. Not sure how well its mapping of the Wii’s motion controls to the Switch’s thumbsticks will work – but the option to retain the motion controls using the Joy-con controllers will still be present.

There was a strange re-release announced of 2005 Xbox/PlayStation 2 game Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse. I vaguely remember that game from the Xbox era – it has a fun premise but, if I recall correctly, was little more than average. So I was surprised to learn it’s being re-released not only for the Switch but also for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One!

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword can be played using motion controls.

And that’s it really. There were some updates and new characters for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Hyrule Warriors, as well as updates announced for a couple of other titles. Nothing in yesterday’s Nintendo Direct was bad, but nothing really leapt out at me as being fantastic or a wonderful surprise. It was just… okay.

Therein lies the danger with hyping up an event like this. Nintendo hadn’t done a proper Direct broadcast in a while, so expectations were high for what may be announced. The pandemic has certainly slowed work in Japan – just as it has everywhere else – so it’s no criticism that they haven’t got more to say. That’s something I feel most people will understand. But given that there really wasn’t that much to say – and that some of what was shown off isn’t coming any time soon – perhaps there was a better way to do it than by hyping up a big broadcast like this one. I have no doubt that some Nintendo fans – especially those invested in Zelda and expecting something big – came away at least a little disappointed.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective developer, publisher, and/or studio. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.


You can watch the full Nintendo Direct broadcast below:

For the love of God, don’t call it the “Switch Pro”

What is it with major games companies giving their flagship home consoles awful names? The name of the Xbox Series X was so confusing that on the day the console became available to pre-order, sales of the previous generation model Xbox One X skyrocketed. Many consumers will have been surprised when they ended up with the wrong machine!

Nintendo is no stranger to awful names. After the success of the Wii in the late 2000s, Nintendo wanted to keep the brand name going and launched the Wii U. But due to a combination of poor marketing and the confusing name, many consumers didn’t even realise that the Wii U was a new console, instead assuming that its tablet-controller was some kind of overpriced accessory for the original Wii.

Having been in this position once before, and having seen the reaction to Microsoft’s awful naming schemes, you’d think Nintendo would know better than to release a new console called the “Switch Pro.” But if rumours are to be believed, that is exactly what they plan to do.

Has Nintendo learned nothing from the Wii U?

Here’s the fundamental flaw in that approach: it’s the Wii U problem all over again. What is a Switch Pro? Is it like a PlayStation 4 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro – the same basic machine, running the same software and games, but with a bit of extra power to make those games look better? Or is it a whole new system which will run its own exclusive software that won’t work on the original Switch? Can you figure it out? Because I can’t.

I used to work in the video games industry. I spent several years with a large games company and I’ve done freelance work for a few others. If I, as a former industry insider and someone who knows a fair amount about gaming, can’t tell what a Switch Pro is supposed to be, what hope does the average consumer have?

Not only are Nintendo potentially risking a repeat of the Wii U fiasco, with the console failing to sell due to its confusing name, but they also risk upsetting existing Switch owners if there are going to be Switch Pro-exclusive titles. Imagine the disappointment of buying a game you believe will work on your Switch only to find the console you paid £200-300 for won’t run the game. Cue angry letters from members of the public, parents, and irate gamers.

The Nintendo Switch was released in 2017.

The name “Switch” is no more of a brand than “Wii” was in 2012. What people look for are the big names: Xbox, PlayStation, and of course Nintendo. The Nintendo Switch is its own thing, and Nintendo’s next console will need a new name to give itself a new identity – it can’t recycle the “Switch” branding because that’s inextricably tied to the current console and lineup of games. When there has already been the handheld-only Switch Lite, there will be an expectation from the public that a “Switch Pro” will simply be another variant – not a wholly new console.

That’s before we even get into the frankly rather troubling idea of Nintendo talking about launching a new console while the current machine is less than four years old. The past couple of console generations have been twice as long, and there’s a reasonable expectation when buying a new console that it will have a decent lifespan. Especially in the current climate, with all kinds of uncertainty hanging over people’s jobs and economic futures, it isn’t a great time to launch a new console.

Nintendo screwed up with the Wii U in 2012, and the release of the Switch less than five years later was a response to that colossal mistake. But with the Switch doing phenomenally well and with plenty of games either already out or coming up in the next few months, there’s no need for another machine at this stage. Some newer titles that are popular on other platforms – like Cyberpunk 2077, for example – won’t be able to be ported to the Switch because it’s a less-powerful device. But that didn’t stop people continuing to enjoy the Wii, and even when the Switch launched it wasn’t going toe-to-toe with the Xbox One or PlayStation 4, yet it outsold the Xbox One in less than four years and is on course to catch up to the PlayStation 4.

There are still some great games to come for the Switch.

There’s a lot to be said for being patient and reaping the rewards of the incredibly-successful Switch. Players of all ages and skill levels have responded very positively to this hybrid machine, and while any company in the games industry needs to have an eye on the future, I’d argue that now is not the time. Even Xbox and PlayStation could’ve squeezed another year or two out of their last-gen machines instead of rushing ahead with the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 launches a couple of months ago.

But we’ve drifted off-topic. The “Switch Pro” is a terrible name for a new console, one which will confuse a lot of parents and players, and end up upsetting people when they don’t get what they expected. If the Switch is coming to the end of its life – which it shouldn’t be, but we all know that Nintendo loves to artificially mess with these things – then a new console needs a new name.

Let’s not repeat the mistakes made by the Wii U and Xbox Series X!

Switch, Wii, Wii U, and other properties mentioned above are the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Let’s-a Play Luigi’s Mansion 3 – Part 2

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Luigi’s Mansion 3.

It’s taken a few days for me to get back to Luigi’s Mansion 3, what with all the theorising and building up to the third season of Star Trek: Discovery. Sorry about that, but we’re finally back with Mario’s scaredy-cat brother as he continues to explore the Last Resort hotel. In the first part, we saw Luigi and the gang check into the hotel, only for the whole thing to be revealed as a trap! Hellen Gravely, the owner, is in cahoots with Luigi’s nemesis King Boo, and the dastardly duo have trapped Mario, Peach, Toad, and Luigi’s professor friend in paintings. Here’s hoping Luigi can get them out!

One thing that makes writing this kind of article a lot easier than in years gone by is the ease of taking and saving screenshots. The Switch pro controller is my gamepad of choice for Nintendo’s console, and it has a screenshot button built right in. Regular readers may recall that I used to work for a large games company, and it wasn’t that long ago that getting a screenshot of a console game was a pain in the bum that required specialist equipment and a decent PC. So here’s to that little innovation!

Last time, we left Luigi in a large room which contained a portrait of his professor friend from the first title in the series…

This is as far as we got last time.

This time, we’re going to explore some more of the hotel and even take on the first two boss fights. Let’s get started!

Luigi’s Mansion 3 doesn’t have the kind of “save anywhere” functionality that most modern games have. Instead it relies on an autosave which checkpoints Luigi’s progress every time he opens a doorway into a new room. Luckily this is a hotel, and exploring the hotel is the aim of the game, meaning we’re going in and out of a lot of rooms! The save file seems to keep the most recent three autosaves, meaning if – for whatever reason – one of them was no good, it’s possible to go back and choose a different one. As someone who’s been burned before by corrupted data, accidental deletions, and lost save files… this isn’t great. I like to be in control of my save, and Luigi’s Mansion 3 doesn’t give me that control.

The loading screen.

After loading, Luigi was in the hallway behind the room with Professor E. Gadd’s painting. Exploring this hallway led to an impassable doorway (blocked by something behind the door), as well as a metal door that needed a key. There was one other door, which was the only accessible one in this area.

The stuck door.

Opening this door led to a weird room that reminded me of a dressing-room for a theatre. There was a large mirror and several chairs facing it, with a table in front. I used to be involved with an amateur dramatics society many years ago, and this looked an awful lot like the backstage setup we had for getting people into their costumes and makeup! Considering that the ghosts who occupy the hotel had to put on a show for Luigi, Mario, Peach, and the Toads when they arrived, it makes sense that they’d have to have a dressing-room of some kind. And this is it!

The dressing-room.

The dressing-room was laid out very cleverly, and made good use of the mirror. Using the Poltergust on a coat hanging on the left of the room gave Luigi access to a safe, inside of which was a green gem. Not sure what purpose these gems serve yet, but we’ll find several more during this section of the playthrough. Another mirror on the right of the room showed a switch on the fourth wall (i.e. the one we can’t see). Activating this switch with the lamp on the Poltergust opened a hiding place behind a painting, giving Luigi the key to the metal door.

The hidden key.

This was a clever puzzle, the kind you might’ve expected to find in an older point-and-click game like Monkey Island, and the combination of the camera and mirror worked well here. It isn’t Nintendo’s first time using a mirror to reveal a hidden secret; Super Mario 64 features a room in the castle where it’s necessary to use a mirror to find the way into one of the painting worlds. After grabbing the key I headed out of the room, and here’s where not playing the game for ten days almost tripped me up! An attack by a couple of ghosts almost led to Luigi’s untimely demise as I struggled to remember how to use the various settings on the Poltergust!

Battling ghosts in the hallway.

I was eventually able to defeat the ghosts, however, and make it back to the metal door. Unlocking it with the key led to a room with a safe. Inside the safe Luigi found a new lightbulb for the Poltergust; this one has the ability to save people trapped in pictures. So far we’ve only found one of Luigi’s friends, so it was back to the room with Professor Gadd’s painting to rescue him!

Professor E. Gadd is saved from his painting prison.

The Professor insists on being taken to his car in the basement – the place where we got the Poltergust earlier on. And here I’m almost embarrassed to say I got stuck! Heading back into the lobby leads the Professor to make a comment about heading down to the basement in the lift. But there didn’t appear to be a way to call or open the lift; the button was blocked by a fallen bin and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what to do for a solid five minutes or so! Eventually, however, I remembered that pressing both trigger buttons at the same time does a different kind of attack move, and this is the only way to dislodge the wayward bin and access the lift. Phew.

Finally able to enter the lift!

Upon entering the basement garage, Luigi encountered the first boss. I’m not sure what this character is called (or if he even has a name) but he was a ghostly member of the hotel’s staff, and attacked Luigi by throwing suitcases and other items of luggage. It wasn’t a particularly difficult fight all things considered, but it was time-consuming as this ghost had more hit points than any of the others we’ve encountered so far. Luckily the fight earlier on had reminded me of all the different moves at Luigi’s disposal, and while I did take some damage Luigi ultimately prevailed.

Defeating the first boss.

Most of the buttons in the elevator were missing – there was only the basement accessible when Luigi and the Professor rode down a moment earlier. This boss dropped two buttons when he was defeated, and this seems to be a pattern that will be repeated for every boss in the game. Each button allows the lift to travel to a different floor – so defeating a boss opens up a new level. Simple.

Luigi finds one of the buttons.

The Professor heads to his car and retrieves a strange geometric shaped item from the boot. This turns out to be his “mobile lab,” and when unfolded it’s an entire safe room! Setting this up in the basement will allow the Professor to keep tabs on Luigi, as well as being a safe space to return to between levels.

Luigi is shocked as the Professor sets up his lab.

The Professor is kind of funny. A stereotypical “mad scientist” type who’s lost in his work, he’s nevertheless a fun character and I enjoyed the cut-scene with him inside the lab. He gives Luigi a “Virtual Boo” – an obvious clone of Nintendo’s own Virtual Boy console from the 1990s which failed. This was a funny, self-aware joke on Nintendo’s part! In addition to being able to call on the Professor to ask for hints, the VB also contains a map, which will come in handy. And just like the Virtual Boy on which it was based, all the menus, screens, and even the map are projected in shades of red.

Luigi receives the Virtual Boo from the Professor.

After exiting the lab, Luigi’s first task was to install a machine of the Professor’s inside the lift. This will keep track of the available floors and provide a little information when inside the lift. Entering the lift triggered a cut-scene in which it was set up automatically, so there wasn’t much to do here. The next assignment took Luigi to the fifth floor, which is where the Professor had been staying when he was captured. Luigi is tasked with retrieving an important briefcase…

Next stop, the fifth floor…

The fifth floor branched off in two directions. Both were blocked, one by furniture that was immovable – but may be able to be moved later if Luigi gains access to new moves. The other was blocked by suitcases that Luigi was able to move using his new “plunger shot” skill. The plunger shot is what it sounds like – the Poltergust fires a plunger (the kind used to unclog toilets) with a rope attached. It will stick to certain flat surfaces, and Luigi can then use the Poltergust to suck up the rope, moving whatever object the plunger is stuck to. Got that? It’s harder to explain in words than it is to use!

Using the plunger shot on a suitcase.

After rounding the corner, a housekeeping cart shoots off seemingly all on its own, giving Luigi a fright. Exploring these rooms yields little, and after a fight against a couple of ghosts, Luigi arrives at Room 508 – which had a giant yellow exclamation-mark on the map. Inside was the next boss: a chambermaid. Room 508 was the Professor’s room, and inside is the briefcase Luigi needed to get. Unfortunately the maid swallows the briefcase, and before I could figure out what to do she made her escape by floating through the wall.

The second boss.

Once I figured out how to use the plunger shot on the briefcase – ghosts are noncorporeal, after all! – the boss fight was another that was relatively easy yet still time-consuming. After a couple of successful attacks the maid will flee if you aren’t quick enough, and after she fled the third time, I wasn’t sure where she’d gone.

The ledge on the fifth floor.

Looking around the entire accessible area – including an outdoor section on a ledge – yielded nothing, but after returning to Room 508 the maid was back where she started, and the boss fight was able to be continued. Defeating her meant Luigi could grab the briefcase, and also scored another elevator button for his trouble.

Defeating the second boss.

The new button is for the third floor – which says it contains a hotel shop, perhaps somewhere for Luigi to spend all of these coins he’s been collecting? Before we can go there, however, the Professor calls to ask for his briefcase. Returning to the lab in the basement, Luigi was rewarded for this outing with yet another new tool – Gooigi! What is Gooigi, I hear you ask? Well it’s a facsimile of Luigi… made entirely out of goo. Gooigi is able to access areas that Luigi can’t, and it’s now possible to switch between controlling Luigi and Gooigi with the push of a button.

It’s like that scene from Terminator 2…

Gooigi’s main feature is being able to squish his way into small spaces – such as in between bars or, perhaps, down grates. We’ve already seen a few rooms that had small, seemingly impassable holes in the wall. Perhaps Gooigi can access those areas. I had wondered if Polterpup (Luigi’s ghostly dog) might be useful there, but it seems like Gooigi might be instead. We’ll see next time we find such a room!

Gooigi is loaded into the Poltergust.

After a short section that served as a tutorial for using and controlling Gooigi, Luigi was once again able to explore the hotel. The third floor had been opened up, and though I couldn’t tell much from the map it didn’t look like a huge level. Also hearing that it was a shop led me to think maybe it would be somewhere to spend some coins, if indeed Luigi’s Mansion 3 has such a facility. So I headed to the third floor!

Heading to the third floor – with the Professor’s special machine in the lift.

The third floor turned out to be larger than its map led me to believe, and contained who I assume to be the next boss – a security guard ghost. This ghost dropped a large key while patrolling around the shuttered shops and Luigi was able to sneak in and collect it. The next door has another large yellow exclamation-mark on the map… I think that means the boss will be there! But let’s save that for next time, since we’ve done quite a lot of exploring already!

Luigi’s Mansion 3 continues to offer cute spooky fun in the run-up to Halloween, which is all I wanted from it! I hope these write-ups are a bit of fun; Luigi’s Mansion 3 is a very different kind of game from the last one I wrote up, and with less of a story it’s sometimes hard to know what to say. I don’t want to skip over too much gameplay!

Come back next time to see what the giant exclamation-mark on the third floor is all about!

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is out now for Nintendo Switch. The Mario franchise – including the Luigi’s Mansion games – is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Let’s-a Play Luigi’s Mansion 3 – Part 1

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Luigi’s Manion 3.

It’s October, the spookiest month of the year! As we get nearer to Halloween, I thought it could be fun to play through a truly spooky game: Luigi’s Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch. Perhaps appropriately, Luigi’s Mansion 3 was released on Halloween last year, but it’s taken me until now to pick up a copy! If you followed my playthrough of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order this summer, this series of articles will be in a similar format. I’ll be writing up my time playing the game, illustrating the posts with screenshots, and at the end when I’ve completed it I’ll write a summary and give you my impressions.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is the first game in the series that I’ve played. The first Luigi’s Mansion debuted on the GameCube in 2001 (or 2002 here in the UK). I didn’t own a GameCube, so it wasn’t a title I got to play at that time, but I’ve heard positive things about the game and its Nintendo 3DS remake. The second instalment in the series, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, was also a 3DS title, released to coincide with Nintendo’s “Year of Luigi” promotional event in 2013. Interest in that title and the remake of the first entry led to the creation of Luigi’s Mansion 3 a few years later.

So that’s how the game came to be! Without further ado, let’s get started!

The title screen.

I was positively thrilled that, for the first time in a long time, a game I’d bought didn’t require any updates before I could get started! Instead the game booted straight to the main menu, from where I could select story mode and jump right into playing. A cute opening cinematic depicts Luigi, Mario, Princess Peach, and several Toads on a bus.

Luigi, fast asleep on the bus.

Luigi has a ghost-dog called Polterpup, who may be a returning character from one of the past games. That rounds out the group as they arrive at The Last Resort hotel for a holiday.

Polterpup and Luigi with their mysterious invitation.

Inside the lobby of the hotel I got my first moment of gameplay, as Luigi was able to walk around the lobby and investigate a couple of different things. I liked the old Mario theme that played when Luigi was in the vicinity of Mario. After interacting with everything in the area, Luigi checked into the hotel, at which point another cinematic played.

Mario and Luigi.

It turns out that Luigi had been invited to the hotel – along with his friends – by the owner, Hellen Gravely. She invites them all to check into their rooms, and they ride a lift that reminded me of the Disney World ride The Tower of Terror up to their floor. In fact, the creepy vibe of the hotel as a whole could be said to be reminiscent of that ride.

Hellen Gravely…
…and the Tower of Terror-esque lift.

Everyone retired to their own rooms, leaving Luigi alone with Polterpup. Exploring the room and bathroom yielded nothing significant, so the only thing left to do was go to bed. Luigi was awakened later that night by Princess Peach screaming!

Luigi woke up when he heard Princess Peach screaming.

The room was now shrouded in darkness with a mysterious mist or fog on the floor, and where there had been cute little hotel knick-knacks there was now nothing but spooky décor! Luigi looked in both Mario and Peach’s rooms, but they weren’t there. Both rooms did have signs that they’d recently been there; pizza boxes for Mario, a tea set for Peach.

Mario’s half-finished pizza.

After exiting Peach’s room, Luigi was confronted by Hellen Gravely. It turns out that she had befriended King Boo – who I believe was the main baddie in the earlier games – and he’d captured Peach, Mario, and the Toads. They’d been imprisoned in picture frames, which sounded kind of like the setup to Super Mario 64!

Hellen Gravely in her true form.

King Boo wanted to trap Luigi too, getting his revenge for being defeated in a past encounter. There was nothing to do but run! The hallway that led to Luigi’s room was the only way to go, and King Boo gave chase.

King Boo!

At the end of the hallway, Luigi had nowhere left to run. A convenient laundry chute offered him a last-ditch escape, and he dived in head first! This marked the end of the prologue, as we got the game’s opening title; the sunlit, appealing hotel changed to look dark and spooky! At the bottom of the laundry chute Polterpup woke up Luigi, and the game’s first level began.

The escape from King Boo.

Luigi collected his first coin – though what the coins do is unclear at this point – and followed Polterpup into the hotel’s car park. There he was directed to a parked car containing the Poltergust! This is the vacuum cleaner-weapon that debuted in earlier titles. Luigi will use it to suck up ghosts (I know how it sounds but that’s the best way to explain it!) It also has a powerful light that can paralyse ghosts.

The Poltergust.

Polterpup gave Luigi a quick tutorial on the weapon. It can be used to suck up ghosts, push them away with a “blow” function, shine a bright light, and create a shockwave. After confirming that I was happy with what I’d learnt it was time to press on.

Learning to use the Poltergust.

Going upstairs led back to the hotel lobby, and the first battle against spooky spirits! I was a little surprised to see that a single hit from a ghost was enough to lower Luigi’s health by a whopping twenty points! At that rate he’s only good for four or perhaps five hits, after which it’s surely game over. I’ll have to be careful!

Battling gosts in the hotel lobby.

The ghosts have locked Luigi in the hotel – presumably so King Boo can catch him – and after dispatching (or collecting?) them, I was free to explore the lobby once more.

The ghosts have sealed the way out!

Presumably this is the hotel’s “normal” state, and it was simply redressed to look more appealing to the gang when they arrived. Its current décor is much more ghostly; perfect for Halloween! There are even pumpkins.

Some Halloween decorations!

With the few ghosts gone, nobody else was present in the lobby. Luigi was able to get behind the counter and grab a shiny key – surely something that will come in handy in a title like this! There was also a large amount of money behind the counter, and Luigi went from having a handful of coins to over 1,000 in an instant. I wonder what he can spend them on?

Luigi grabs the key.

The key was obviously the important thing, as without it the door on the level above would not open. Luigi used the key to open it and unlock the next area.

Opening the door on the upper level.

A room in this area contained a portrait of a character that I vaguely recognised; it turns out this was one of the characters from one of the previous games. The professor who invented Luigi’s vacuum cleaner-weapon is trapped like Mario and co., and it’s up to Luigi to rescue them!

Luigi’s friend is trapped in a picture!

At this point, having completed the prologue, I had to get on with something else so I shut the game off. I think we’re going to have plenty of spooky fun between now and Halloween playing Luigi’s Mansion 3! The controls will take a little getting used to; there’s no direct camera control, and while the camera follows Luigi quite closely for the most part, that’s something I’m not used to in a third-person title. There’s also no jumping in the game, so it doesn’t look like we’re in for much platforming.

Though I could only spend around half an hour with the game on this first occasion, my first impressions of Luigi’s Mansion 3 are very positive, and I’m looking forward to pressing on deeper into The Last Resort hotel and battling spooky ghosts!

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is out now for Nintendo Switch. The Mario franchise – including the Luigi’s Mansion games – is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Nintendo 3DS has been discontinued – let’s look back at this unique system

With all the hype surrounding the upcoming next-generation consoles, one gaming story that flew under the radar over the last couple of weeks has been the discontinuing of the Nintendo 3DS. The 3DS is arguably the last successful true handheld gaming platform – the Nintendo Switch is a hybrid, and the PlayStation Vita didn’t come close to matching the 3DS in terms of sales. As the console’s life comes to an end, I thought it would be a good opportunity to look back on some of its accomplishments.

I’ve never been massively interested in handheld gaming. I didn’t own an original Game Boy, and on past handheld systems, like the Game Boy Advance and the first Nintendo DS, I basically played Mario Kart and not much else. When home consoles and PC offered better graphics and generally more well-rounded experiences, that was how I preferred to play. Even when I was much more interested in gaming as a hobby, I was still content to wait to get home from work; I never felt that I needed a system I could play on the go. So that was the mindset I had as the Nintendo 3DS launched in 2011.

An original Nintendo 3DS.

When I first encountered a 3DS, I confess to being unimpressed. Though the system did offer some improvements over the older DS, which had been released in 2005, it didn’t seem to be massively better, and the almost-identical dual screen design left me underwhelmed. Its autostereoscopic 3D felt like a total gimmick too; I was convinced that someone came up with the name “3DS” and then made a product to fit! There were a lot of reports at the time of the 3D screens causing headaches and migraines, and I believe Nintendo issued official advice not to use the device in 3D mode for more than an hour at a time.

So for a number of reasons I found the 3DS an underwhelming prospect at first. I had a Wii and an Xbox 360 by this point, so I wasn’t short of ways to play games, and having never really felt the need to play games while travelling or commuting I was content to give the console a pass. However, I ended up changing my mind for a couple of reasons. The first was that I really was quite keen to be able to play Mario Kart 7, and secondly my girlfriend at the time wanted to be able to play some 3DS titles together. What really sealed the deal, though, and convinced me that I needed to get a 3DS for myself was Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

Dedicating a new bridge in Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

I’d been dimly aware of the Animal Crossing series, but as someone who hadn’t owned a GameCube the first title wasn’t one I got to play for myself. New Leaf sounded fantastic, though, with lots of customisation options – and I do love a game with plenty of customisation! It was this game that finally pushed me into spending my money and buying a Nintendo 3DS.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a game I’ve sunk innumerable hours into in the seven years since it released. It was so much fun to play with a friend, with almost limitless single-player gameplay and a ton of fun mini-games to play in multiplayer. It’s also the kind of game that’s very easy to pick up for a few minutes at a time. I would find myself regularly picking up my 3DS during moments of downtime to perform a single small task in my town.

Mario Kart 7 was no disappointment either, and I had lots of fun with that title. Regular readers may remember that I used to work in the games industry, and for a time I worked in a large office where several colleagues also had 3DS consoles and enjoyed Mario Kart 7. We’d often get together during breaks or downtime and use the 3DS’ Download Play feature to race against one another wirelessly. It was great fun!

Promo screenshot for Mario Kart 7.

I loved the customisation options that Mario Kart 7 introduced. There were different kart pieces that could all be selected prior to the race, and that was an innovation for the series. Mario Kart Wii had introduced a broad range of karts, but Mario Kart 7 was the first entry to allow players to choose different tyres, different kart frames, etc. It also introduced a first-person viewpoint (which was seldom used), and the ability for karts to glide.

So those are undoubtedly my top two games from the system. Animal Crossing: New Leaf in particular was a game I was still playing even earlier this year; it has incredible longevity. Let’s look at a few other titles that did well on the system.

Obviously there were the obligatory Pokémon titles: Pokémon X & Y and Pokémon Sun & Moon released on the 3DS and though Pokémon has never really been my thing, I can acknowledge that the games are among the console’s best-sellers. Both titles (or all four, I guess) were considered iterative rather than transformative in the way the Switch title Pokémon Sword & Shield has been, but at the time they were well-received by fans.

Promo screenshot for Pokémon X & Y.

Donkey Kong Country Returns was ported from the Wii, and obviously had to undergo a minor graphical downgrade to work on the less-powerful handheld system, but nevertheless was great fun. This was one of Nintendo’s big experiments with porting more modern titles to their handheld platform; older titles like Super Mario 64 had succeeded on the original DS, but there was a question-mark over how well a Wii title would work. Because Donkey Kong Country Returns is a 2D platformer, the 3DS held up remarkably well. Games like this also set the stage in some respects for the porting of “bigger” titles to the Nintendo Switch a few years later, and now it’s not uncommon to hear people say they can’t wait to play a Switch port of their favourite title so they can play it on the go.

The two main Mario games on the 3DS – New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario 3D Land did well too, and both were enjoyable. I loved Mario’s return to the 2D platforming genre on the Wii, and the 3DS title was more of the same. Super Mario 3D Land was okay, but didn’t really bring a lot to the table. It was criticised by some self-proclaimed “hardcore gamers” for offering players a way to skip tricky levels when they’ve been unable to get through after ten or more attempts. We could talk all day about difficulty options and accessibility – and perhaps we should one day – but suffice to say the argument was particularly stupid, as the inclusion of such options doesn’t change the main part of the game in any way.

Several Nintendo 2DS and 3DS variants in official marketing material.

Aside from games, the Nintendo 3DS leaned heavily into being a connected device that could do things like play YouTube videos and communicate with friends. It could connect to the internet via wi-fi, which was something home consoles at the time either couldn’t do or could only do with additional accessories. It also came out of the box with a basic augmented reality minigame, and thus was my first real experience with AR. Augmented reality never really took off in the way it could have, and in that respect feels gimmicky even today, but it was nevertheless interesting, and it’s something that the console was set up for – if any developers had been interested!

The 3DS had a camera that could not only take digital photos, but was also capable of taking autostereoscopic 3D photos. The 3D functionality in general was not something most folks were interested in, but again this is something that had potential in 2010/11 to take off, and if it had done so we would perhaps be hailing the 3DS as a pioneer! Remember it was around this time that 3D televisions were being pushed as “the next big thing” along with 3D blu-rays. Had the public been more receptive to 3D as a whole, some of these features would have surely been refined and reused.

The Nintendo 3DS came with a basic set of AR minigames.

Nintendo could see the writing on the wall for 3D, though, and released the Nintendo 2DS only a couple of years after the 3DS launched. The 2DS was marketed at kids, and was a less-expensive variant of the console that didn’t have the autostereoscopic 3D functionality. Partly released to overcome the worries of parents who’d heard about the problems that 3D could cause, the 2DS did well in that market. I couldn’t get past the fact that it didn’t fold up, though!

At a time when the Wii U’s failure threatened Nintendo as a company, the 3DS helped them tick over. It remained a profitable system, and even at the height of the Wii U’s problems in 2012-13, the 3DS continued to churn out titles and move units. The importance of its success in that period to Nintendo can’t really be overstated – without the money it was bringing in, Nintendo would have been in a much more shaky position.

The Wii U failed hard, but the Nintendo 3DS kept the company’s head above water.

Before Nintendo tried (and failed) to recapture the “hardcore gamer” market with the Wii U, the 3DS continued the trend of appealing to casual and occasional players in a much broader market. Titles like the Brain Age series, Sudoku Party, Nintendogs + Cats, and even Tomodachi Life appealed to many people who wouldn’t have considered themselves “gamers.” I know of disabled and elderly folks who enjoyed the 3DS for its casual puzzle and brain training titles, and the system was a gateway into the gaming hobby for kids who wanted to play some of the cuter titles. In that sense, the 3DS was an important platform, even if it wasn’t as transformative as smartphones and tablets.

The 3DS gave me one of my favourite games of the last decade in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and one of the best multiplayer experiences in Mario Kart 7. For those two games alone I can say it was a fun system, and I greatly enjoyed my time with it. As smartphones have become a major gaming platform, it’s hard to see how another dedicated handheld gaming system could replicate the 3DS’ success. Even Nintendo themselves have recognised this, releasing mobile games that feature some of their biggest characters and franchises. With the system being discontinued in 2020, it may be the last ever dedicated handheld gaming system that isn’t either a phone or tablet.

The Nintendo 3DS – and many of the games mentioned above – is the copyright of Nintendo. Promo screenshots courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some interesting Mario projects for the franchise’s 35th anniversary

The Super Mario Bros. 35th anniversary Nintendo Direct.

I don’t usually watch Nintendo Direct presentations, at least not unless I’m eagerly anticipating a title. I only own a handful of Switch games, as they often remain expensive even years after release. When I have a stack of unplayed PC games, spending £50 on a Switch game feels wasteful! This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Mario franchise, as Super Mario Bros. debuted in 1985. Though a 35th anniversary is hardly one of the “big ones”, rumours had been swirling for months that Nintendo would take the opportunity to do something significant in celebration of their most famous character and mascot.

Super Mario All-Stars, which features the original Super Mario Bros. as well as its first three sequels, was one of the first games I owned when I had a SNES in the early 1990s. I enjoyed playing through those games, and while the Mario series has never been my biggest fandom, it’s one that’s usually offered fun and well-made titles. Though I skipped the Mario Galaxy games, I’ve played many of the other mainline entries, including the recent Super Mario Odyssey.

Super Mario Bros. was released in 1985 – 35 years ago.

The main reason why I tuned in, though, was because there had been rumours of a remastered Super Mario 64 – perhaps my favourite entry in the series. I was at least a little disappointed that it hasn’t received an upgrade, as seeing that game with the visual style of Odyssey would have been spectacular in my opinion! But Mario 64 is coming back in its original form, bundled with Mario Sunshine and the first Mario Galaxy game as part of a collection called Super Mario 3D All-Stars.

The collection looks like a lot of fun, and being able to replay Mario 64 will be great. I’ve also only played Mario Sunshine once, in like 2002, so it’ll be fantastic to have a proper look at that game for the first time in a long time too. And as someone who’s never played Galaxy, perhaps now’s the time to give that one a try! But Super Mario 3D All-Stars comes with a stupid and artificial limitation – in true Nintendo style. I criticised Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the arbitrary decision to prohibit players having more than one save file per console, despite there being no reason for such a limitation. And Super Mario 3D All-Stars deserves all the criticism it gets for its forced scarcity business model.

Super Mario 64 might be my favourite Mario title.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars will only be available for six months. At the end of March next year it will be removed from sale – both physically and digitally. I’ve never heard of such nonsense as a digital download game being removed from sale. It’s arbitrary and it’s clearly designed to drum up as much support as possible by playing on gamers’ fears of missing out. Many people, myself included, choose not to buy games at launch because they’re often discounted (or available pre-owned) a few weeks or months later. Super Mario 3D All-Stars, thanks to its unnecessary removal from sale, won’t be in that position, and thus the only way for players to get a copy is to snap it up as quickly as possible. This is a scummy tactic from Nintendo – a company that, despite its family-friendly façade, is no stranger to them. Resellers will be loving this – copies of Super Mario 3D All-Stars will go for big money in six months’ time, and even Switch consoles with the game pre-installed will sell for a packet. Just look at how scalpers have been making money selling iPhones with Fortnite installed since the Epic Games/Apple fight. Something similar will happen in this case too.

It’s one of those difficult situations. I want to like this game, and I’m interested in playing it, but at the same time I don’t want to endorse or support a company that uses such an unfair and anti-consumer business model. Though I felt the same way with Animal Crossing: New Horizons I did ultimately buy the game… and I guess I will be one of the suckers who buys this one too. But I want to register my protest at its business model – which is so incredibly stupid. Nintendo won’t even see most of the benefit, as resellers and scalpers will take the profits. It’ll just screw over ordinary gamers.

It’ll be great to replay Super Mario Sunshine.

As it costs £100, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a bit beyond my budget! But the concept is fun, and I can see this becoming a must-have Christmas toy this year. Augmented reality is a neat idea, but the applications I’ve seen of it have always felt like little more than gimmicks. And usually the nature of augmented reality either necessitates every participant using a single platform or makes the experiences one-person things. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is basically just a remote control car with a camera strapped to it and a few gateways to drive through, but the Mario Kart branding, and being able to race around courses in the real world, hold some appeal.

The only drawback I can see is that it’s very much a one-trick pony. And considering most people don’t have huge homes, there will be limited options for setting up a racetrack. Once those options have been expended, the toy will perhaps be cast aside in favour of others, and while that is the nature of toys, £100 for something that looks like a day’s worth of interest at best from the average child means it feels like poor value. Some of Nintendo’s gimmicks are just there for the sake of it, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, the single-use nature of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit feels like it would be offputting except for Mario fanatics and wealthy parents.

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit looks gimmicky, but fun.

It’s encouraging to see Nintendo making use of the Mario Kart brand, though. I’m still hopeful we’ll see Mario Kart 9 on the Switch before too long; I even made a list of tracks that could be included a little while ago. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit shows that Nintendo is still making use of the brand, and that raises expectations – at least a little – of a new game perhaps being in development. The original Super Mario Kart was released in 1992; with Nintendo making a big fuss about anniversaries, 2022 will be that series’ 30th so perhaps that could be a good time for a new iteration? I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

The other big announcement was a port of the Wii U game Super Mario 3D World, which will bring with it what looks to be a new expansion pack titled Bowser’s Fury. I played this a few years ago, when I was one of about fourteen people who owned a Wii U, and while it was okay and I enjoyed the cat suits the characters can wear, I’m not in a mad rush to replay it so soon after its launch on that console. Nintendo have released some solid Switch titles since 2017, but they’ve also put a disproportionate amount of time into porting Wii U titles to the new system, and the result is that some franchises haven’t got the attention they deserved. Even Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a port – there are a few extra characters and the DLC included, but nothing about the game is substantially different to the Wii U version. The Bowser’s Fury expansion for Super Mario 3D World may make the game worth a second look, but we didn’t see a lot of it in the direct and while it absolutely could be great, it could also turn out to be insubstantial and a bit of a let-down.

Super Mario 3D World is getting an update and a re-release.

The final game worth mentioning is a very strange one – Super Mario Bros. 35 is a multiplayer competitive version of the classic game, played with 35 players in homage to the title’s 35th anniversary. Defeating an enemy will send it into another player’s game, and it looks like whoever racks up the most points per level wins. Or something. I’m struggling to see how this will be all that fun – Super Mario Bros. simply isn’t designed for something like this, and if the game sticks with the original level design I think players could be overwhelmed with enemies. I know multiplayer isn’t usually my thing to begin with, but even with that caveat this doesn’t seem like a game that will be a lot of fun!

So my dreams of playing Super Mario 64 in the engine used for Odyssey will have to wait for another day! The 3D All-Stars collection is tugging me in both directions right now: it looks like fun, but I’m upset at its crappy anti-consumer sales tactic. Otherwise, despite the pandemic, Nintendo has managed to pull out several fun surprises to celebrate Mario’s 35th anniversary. Not all of them will be to everyone’s taste, but even a casual Mario player should be able to find at least one title that they’re interested in.

The Super Mario franchise, including all titles listed above, is the copyright of Nintendo. Some screenshots courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some great Mario Kart racetracks (that would be perfect for Mario Kart 9)

I was very fortunate in mid-2013 to attend a press event for the Wii U game Mario Kart 8. Well before the full game would launch in 2014 I got a brief opportunity to get my hands on the latest edition of Nintendo’s genre-defining kart racer, which scored me pretty significant bragging rights at the company I was working with at the time! The game blew me away with its improved visuals while retaining the exact same feel of playing a Mario Kart game that had been present in every iteration since Super Mario Kart on the SNES. Super Mario Kart, by the way, is one of two racing games I owned back in the SNES days – the other being Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing. I wonder if anyone besides me (and presumably Nigel Mansell) remembers that one!

So I’ve been a Mario Kart fan since the series debuted, and in that time I think I’ve played every iteration of the series. I didn’t own a GameCube in the early 2000s, but I played Mario Kart: Double Dash with friends when I was at university. I think that’s the only title in the series that I didn’t own at one point.

Box art for Mario Kart Wii.

Nintendo usually releases one Mario Kart game per console, and with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch at the moment – where it’s been one of the console’s best-sellers since it launched – perhaps there won’t be a Mario Kart 9 any time soon. But Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is really just a port of the Wii U game; it isn’t a title unique to the Switch. That provides us a tentative glimmer of hope that Mario Kart 9 may still be coming sometime soon!

Recent Mario Kart games have recreated tracks from older entries, changing and upscaling them to fit the new game’s theme. With that in mind, here are some of my favourite racetracks from past games that would be amazing to see return whenever Mario Kart 9 comes around.

Number 1: Kalimari Desert (Mario Kart 64)

Mario Kart 64 might just be my favourite game in the series. It had an amazing set of tracks, including the definitive version of Rainbow Road. But we’ll come to that in a moment! Kalimari Desert is a western-themed track, and while its skewed oval shape is pretty basic, it features a train constantly going around on its own railroad – which can be used as a shortcut if you’re willing to take a chance!

I like the aesthetic of the American west. The desert, the mesas, the cacti; it’s all here in Kalimari Desert. The track has been recreated twice already: in Mario Kart 7 on the Nintendo 3DS, and again in Mario Kart Tour.

Number 2: Vanilla Lake 2 (Super Mario Kart)

The Mario Kart series has some great snow or ice themed tracks. The first tracks to have this kind of wintry theme were the two Vanilla Lake tracks in Super Mario Kart. Vanilla Lake 2 isn’t an easy track in its original incarnation, with lots of obstacles and no clear racing line. It’s easy to fall into the large central lake with its jagged and uneven edge, and because of its basic square shape, Vanilla Lake 2 can be deceptively simple to new players.

The track was recreated once, but hasn’t been used since Mario Kart: Super Circuit on the Game Boy Advance.

Number 3: Wuhu Island Loop/Wuhu Loop (Mario Kart 7)

Beginning in Mario Kart 7, a handful of tracks were longer than others, and instead of racing three laps, players race from a start line to a finish line. For the purposes of the game, tracks like Wuhu Island Loop are still split into three sections – the sections replacing laps. Mario Kart 7 is a game I had a ton of fun with, and Wuhu Island Loop is one of its better offerings.

When I worked in a large office in the early 2010s, several colleagues and I would sometimes get together and use the 3DS’ wireless networking function to play Mario Kart 7 during breaks and downtime. It really was a blast!

Number 4: DK’s Snowboard Cross/DK Summit (Mario Kart Wii)

Another snow-themed track here, but this one is based on a winter sports resort. Toward the end of the track is a really fun section based on a snowboard half-pipe, complete with snowboarding characters and patches of deep snow to avoid! It’s brilliantly done, and while it isn’t the easiest track it’s a ton of fun.

DK’s Snowboard Cross (a.k.a. DK Summit in North America; Nintendo seem to love arbitrarily changing names!) has only been seen in Mario Kart Wii, which I think makes it overdue for a return!

Number 5: Rainbow Road (Mario Kart 64)

As I mentioned above, Mario Kart 64 truly has the definitive version of Rainbow Road. Everything about the track is perfect: its complicated layout, the clever placement of obstacles, and the starry, atmospheric background featuring characters from the Mario series lit up as neon signs. The music that accompanies the track is phenomenal too, making the whole experience strangely nostalgic.

Rainbow Road has been recently recreated for Mario Kart 8, but for some reason Nintendo cut it short and players only get to enjoy one lap instead of three. The original Nintendo 64 version remains the best, and I’d love to see it return in its true form!

Number 6: Animal Crossing (Mario Kart 8 DLC/Mario Kart 8 Deluxe)

With Animal Crossing: New Horizons performing so well and becoming one of the Switch’s top-selling titles, I have no doubt that Nintendo will reference it in some way if there is to be a Mario Kart 9 this generation. However, the Animal Crossing track featured on Mario Kart 8 (originally as DLC on the Wii U) was based on Animal Crossing: New Leaf. It’s a very sweet track that really captures the essence of the sleepy Animal Crossing village perfectly.

Like the Animal Crossing village it’s based on, the track has four seasonal variations and looks different in each. It’s random which one will be chosen every time a player selects the course, which adds another small element of fun!

Number 7: Mushroom Bridge (Mario Kart: Double Dash)

Having not been a GameCube owner (I had an Xbox instead in those days) I’m less familiar with Mario Kart: Double Dash than other entries in the series. However, one track I loved to play with friends was Mushroom Bridge. Toad’s Turnpike on the Nintendo 64 introduced traffic as moving obstacles to race around, and Mushroom Bridge is in a similar vein.

Because the other vehicles on the track are moving, it can be difficult to predict where they’re going, adding an element of complexity to the race. And it’s great fun to sabotage an opponent, sending them careening into traffic!

Number 8: Toad Harbour (Mario Kart 8)

At the press event I mentioned at the beginning of the article, Toad Harbour was the track I got to play for myself. I believe there was one other track available, as well as one battle course – but I can’t remember what those were! Toad Harbour was a great choice to show off the Wii U’s greatly-improved graphics – the course is bright and sunlit, and there’s plenty of detail in its San Francisco-esque scenery.

If Mario Kart 9 opts to drop the anti-gravity racing that premiered in Mario Kart 8, Toad Harbour could be a great choice to adapt as its one anti-gravity section is optional.

Number 9: Bowser Castle 3 (Super Mario Kart)

Super Mario Kart had some very fun and interesting tracks, despite the limitations of the SNES. Bowser Castle 3 (which I always thought was called Bowser‘s Castle 3, with an -s) snakes around like a normal racetrack for the most part, but then there comes a point with the track splitting in two. The jumps lead to a number of smaller islands in the lava, and there are several possible routes across, adding an extra element to what was already a fun track.

The music for Super Mario Kart’s Bowser Castle tracks was also great! The track hasn’t been seen since Mario Kart: Super Circuit, so it’s a great candidate to bring back.

Number 10: Lakeside Park (Mario Kart: Super Circuit)

Lakeside Park is a pretty clever track. The first lap is normal, set in a jungle beside a lake. The intimidating-looking volcanoes seem like just a part of the background… until lap 2, when the sky goes dark and the volcanoes erupt! Chunks of lava then rain down the track, peppering it with additional obstacles.

Considering this was a Game Boy Advance title, there are some pretty clever things going on in Lakeside Park. The track would make a wonderful addition to Mario Kart 9.

Number 11: Peach Beach (Mario Kart: Double Dash)

When my friends and I used to play Peach Beach, we rather immaturely called it the “cock-and-balls” track… because c’mon, what else could that giant rock formation possibly look like? It’s even vaguely flesh-coloured. I’ve known many animators and developers having once worked in the games industry, and I guarantee that was done on purpose.

But we’re off-topic! Peach Beach is a fun track with some interesting obstacles and different terrains to get stuck into, and although it reappeared on the Wii I’d love to see it back again.

Number 12: Shroom Ridge (Mario Kart DS)

Another track featuring traffic, similar to Mushroom Bridge above, Shroom Ridge was one of my favourites from Mario Kart DS. Weaving in and out of oncoming traffic is difficult to master, so I think this track would be perfect for a more challenging grand prix.

It’s also one of the few Mario Kart DS tracks that hasn’t been seen since that game debuted in 2005, making it due for a comeback!

Number 13: Maple Treeway (Mario Kart Wii)

Maple Treeway is a beautifully atmospheric track with an autumnal setting. It has a fantastic musical accompaniment too, and a couple of more challenging parts. There’s nothing too tricky, however, and I just adore the setting, the music, and the whole layout of the track. It’s easily one of my favourites from Mario Kart Wii.

Mario Kart 7 brought back Maple Treeway on the 3DS, but I’d still like to see it return one more time – upscaled in full HD!

Number 14: DK’s Jungle Parkway (Mario Kart 64)

DK’s Jungle Parkway was a clever track when it debuted on the Nintendo 64 – straying off its fairly narrow track onto the grass verge would result in being hit with objects from the jungle background, further slowing you down! This feature meant it was a challenge to avoid oversteering and understeering to stay on the track – and meant it could be a lot of fun to push an opponent off!

DK’s Jungle Parkway reappeared on the Wii, but that version made a couple of changes (the objects no longer hit you when not on the track, and the big jump across the river forces you to go straight instead of taking a chance and cutting the corner) which I feel took away its uniqueness. I’d love to see it back with those features included!

Number 15: Daisy Circuit (Mario Kart Wii)

A nice, straightforward track that takes players through a town at sunrise (or sunset), Daisy Circuit is a sweet little track set to another great piece of music. There are no major obstacles to speak of, though there are two sections in the middle where a fountain and statue must be circumnavigated. It’s a nice, easy track that someone brand-new to Mario Kart could pick up and have fun with.

Daisy Circuit hasn’t been reused since it was first seen in Mario Kart Wii, which is a great reason to bring it back for Mario Kart 9!

Number 16: Shy Guy Bazaar (Mario Kart 7)

The Mario Kart series has a few recurring settings for its tracks, so it’s great when we get something genuinely different. Shy Guy Bazaar has a definite Arabian theme – almost like something from Aladdin – which is a great spin on the typical desert-themed tracks of other Mario Kart titles.

There are some unique obstacles, and the track has some narrow and wide sections, allowing for varied race strategies. It was one of my favourites from Mario Kart 7 – but I always felt it was underappreciated!

Number 17: Wild Woods (Mario Kart 8 DLC/Mario Kart 8 Deluxe)

Another track that was initially available as DLC on the Wii U, Wild Woods is a ton of fun. As I mentioned above, many Mario Kart tracks follow one of a limited number of themes; Wild Woods is something altogether different with its “deep, dark woods” setting – which is reminiscent of some old levels from the Donkey Kong Country series.

Tracks from Mario Kart 8 seem like they’d be well-suited to be brought into Mario Kart 9, and I’d love to see Wild Woods back.

Number 18: Mushroom Gorge (Mario Kart Wii)

Mushroom Gorge is a gorge-ous track. See what I did there? With both an outside section and a section in a cave, there was already a lot of fun to be had, but Mushroom Gorge also introduces giant mushrooms to bounce on – getting the speed and angle right for your bounce is incredibly important, lest you fall into a bottomless pit and have to be rescued!

The track did make a reappearance on the 3DS, but its fun and unique bouncy gameplay would be great to bring back for Mario Kart 9 too.

Number 19: Choco Mountain (Mario Kart 64)

Choco Mountain in Mario Kart 64, as well as the earlier Choco Island tracks in Super Mario Kart, always seemed to be ignored by players in favour of other tracks. I’m not sure if it’s because of the fairly bland all-brown colour scheme, but that’s one possibility. It’s a shame, because Choco Mountain in particular is a clever track with some difficult sections and unpredictable obstacles.

Choco Mountain was seen in Mario Kart DS as well, but I think it’s a candidate to get an HD makeover for Mario Kart 9!

Number 20: Sunshine Airport (Mario Kart 8)

One of the tracks used to market Mario Kart 8, Sunshine Airport has a lot to offer. Mario Kart 7 had introduced gliding, allowing players to soar through the air, and Sunshine Airport takes that theme and runs with it. The airport setting has some unique obstacles, and as somewhere completely different to race around, it’s lots of fun.

I particularly like the aircraft that sometimes pass you while racing, even though I’m always worried that they’re going to crash into me!

So that’s it. A handful of Mario Kart tracks from past entries in the series that I feel would be great to see given an overhaul and an update for Mario Kart 9. This article shouldn’t be interpreted as me having any “insider information” from Nintendo that a new game is in the works! Just to be clear: I have no idea if Mario Kart 9 is in development, or if it will be released on the Switch. It’s possible that Nintendo may not release another entry in this fantastic series until they launch their next console – whenever that could be! However, I think there is reason to be hopeful of a new Mario Kart title. As I mentioned, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just a port of the Wii U game, and aside from collating the main game and its two DLC packs, doesn’t really offer anything substantially new. Secondly, Nintendo has seemed more open to changing things up this generation, particularly where sequels to its most successful titles are concerned: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is getting a direct sequel, for example.

As long as Dry Bones – the best character in the whole Mario Kart series – is playable in Mario Kart 9, I’ll be satisfied with whichever tracks Nintendo decides to bring back!

The Mario Kart series – including all games mentioned above, as well as all individual racetracks, characters, and other properties – is the copyright of Nintendo. Screenshots courtesy of the Super Mario Wiki. They are used under the principle of Fair Dealing. For further information, see my copyright policy. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons – a review

I’ve sunk over 120 hours into Animal Crossing: New Horizons at time of writing, making it my most-played game of 2020 so far, even eclipsing Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition on PC. For a game to have well over 100 hours of playtime and enjoyment is no mean feat, especially for someone like myself – as I’ve written about a number of times here on the website, I find my ability and desire to sit down and play games has waned a lot over the last decade or so. And even with such a large amount of time spent on the game, I haven’t unlocked or accomplished everything; not even close. I am, however, at a point where I feel like I’ve achieved as much as I reasonably can with my current Animal Crossing: New Horizons save file, and as such I feel able to finally put pen to paper and review the game.

First thing’s first: there’s a debate among fans of the Animal Crossing series surrounding whether or not to “time travel” – that is, to deliberately change the in-game time and date to skip over waiting for things to happen, allowing multiple in-game days to be played without those days being tied to real time. I understand both sides of the argument, and as it’s a single-player title, I don’t really think it matters at the end of the day. My personal preference is for not time-travelling, so my island was built up in real time. For the purposes of a review, I think that’s probably a good thing as it means that I’ve played the game “as intended”. It’s taken me two months of regularly playing the game to get my island to this point.

New Horizons gives players a deserted island to tame.

I very rarely buy games when they’re first released. Waiting even six months can often mean a sale or price reduction, and it’s unusual for me to be so keen on a game that I’m willing to shell out £50-55 within days of its release. Yet that’s what I did for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The previous entry in the Animal Crossing series was released for the Nintendo 3DS in 2013, and that game – Animal Crossing: New Leaf – is up there with Mario Kart 7 as one of my favourite 3DS titles. Even earlier this year, seven years on from its release, I was still playing New Leaf. There aren’t many other games from seven years ago that I’m still playing!

New Leaf had been my introduction to the Animal Crossing series, and as it was a game I enjoyed so much, there will inevitably be comparisons to New Horizons – not all of them favourable.

For practically any other game, 100+ hours of enjoyment would be a great accomplishment. Just in the last few months we’ve seen brand new full-priced titles which only offer campaigns that last five or six hours, so for my money there’s no question that New Horizons offers good value. As I’ve written previously, the length of time I can expect to enjoy a title can be a factor in deciding whether to buy it or not, especially when we’re talking about a commitment of £50-55. In addition, those hours have been spread out over more than two months, with something to do in the game practically every day. That is not a small accomplishment, and there’s simply no way I could possibly argue that I haven’t got my money’s worth from New Horizons!

But the Animal Crossing series has always been somewhat of an outlier in this regard. It’s a series which is deliberately slow-paced and that encourages players to take their time. 100+ hours as a fan of the series and as someone who generally enjoys this kind of gameplay should be a given, and while I don’t have the numbers to back this up, I must’ve spent at least a thousand hours playing New Leaf – if not more.

What I question with New Horizons – at least at time of writing – is whether there’s any real longevity beyond that first 100+ hours in the same way there was for New Leaf. One of the biggest draws for New Leaf, and the primary reason I was still going back to it even seven years on from its 2013 release, is that there were great options for multiplayer. The Nintendo 3DS did not charge for multiplayer, either locally or online, and as a result anyone with a copy of New Leaf could participate. The Switch does charge for this feature – Nintendo introduced Switch Online a year or so after the console launched, even going so far as gating off titles like Mario Kart, which had previously offered free online multiplayer, behind a paywall. That automatically segregates players into those who can play online and those who can’t, and not all of my friends have shelled out for Switch Online.

Promo artwork for New Horizons.

This ties into a much broader point, but for those players who have paid for online multiplayer, there is far less to do than there was in New Leaf. One of New Leaf’s biggest features for multiplayer was the “Tropical Island”: a separate area of the game which offered timed cooperative and competitive mini-games. Some of these mini-games were based on New Leaf’s normal gameplay, like fishing or popping balloons, but others weren’t. There were fun games like matching fossils or playing hide-and-seek with some of the game’s anthropomorphic animals, and as silly as these mini-games may sound, they provided hours of entertainment. All of these mini-games are absent in New Horizons, and they aren’t the only feature from New Leaf to have disappeared with no replacement.

Without structured mini-games to play, there isn’t actually much on offer in terms of a multiplayer experience. Players can, of course, exchange furniture and different types of fruit, as well as talk to the animal residents of their friends’ islands and see what the islands look like, but beyond that there isn’t anything to do together. Players can of course try to make their own fun, and in a way that’s part of the Animal Crossing experience. But I can see no reason to remove what was a much-enjoyed feature of New Leaf. Speaking purely anecdotally, everyone I played New Leaf with over the last seven years enjoyed these mini-games, and visiting the Tropical Island together was basically all we did when playing multiplayer. With the mini-games gone, and with nothing substantial to replace them, it’s hard to justify buying a Switch Online subscription purely for New Horizons; the novelty will wear off fast, even for someone with dozens of friends who all play the game too.

I question the longevity of New Horizons as a fun multiplayer experience.

I mentioned that missing features was a bigger point than just multiplayer, and the Tropical Island with its mini-games isn’t the only feature missing that had been present in New Leaf. There are fewer kinds of fruit trees in New Horizons – six (including the coconut palm tree) as opposed to twelve in New Leaf. This is something I genuinely don’t understand. All fruit behaves in the same way – three of them grow on a tree, they can be planted to grow new trees, eaten, given away, or sold. All it would take to add the missing six fruit types (or to add brand-new ones) would be an image and a single word of text. This would have practically no impact on the game’s file size, nor complicate matters in any way. Yet there’s less fruit types available than in the previous game.

That should make collecting all six types of fruit easier, but it doesn’t. A player’s island has one type of “native” fruit when they arrive, and it’s possible to acquire the coconut palm and one other type of non-native fruit through normal gameplay. But that’s it. If you want the other three types, the only option is to shell out for Switch Online and get them from someone else. These not-so-subtle pushes from Nintendo to get players to pick up the bad value paid online service are not appreciated; there should be a way to get everything the game has to offer through regular single-player gameplay. While it doesn’t actually matter in terms of the way the game plays (all non-native fruit is worth the same amount of Bells to sell and otherwise behaves identically) for completionists or for players who want a particular aesthetic to their island, it should be something they can accomplish in-game.

Another big missing feature is diving. In New Leaf, players could acquire a wetsuit which would allow them to swim in the sea off the beach of their town (or on the Tropical Island). When swimming in the sea, players would be able to dive underwater, and there were a number of underwater critters that could be caught in addition to the standard fish. All of this is missing from New Horizons.

To compensate, New Horizons does introduce some new features. The first is crafting – something which seems like a natural fit for both the Animal Crossing series and this title’s “deserted island” theme. The second is terraforming, allowing players to shape the island’s cliffs and waterways. Let’s look at these in turn.

The crafting mechanic is fun, but it isn’t without its problems. This will vary from player to player, but I only found myself crafting a handful of furniture items: chairs, tables, and the like. Most of the furniture I used in my house and around the island were bought from the shop, and the reason is that these items were – in my subjective opinion – better-looking and more interesting. A handful of interesting items could be crafted, like a brick pizza oven for example, but most of what was available didn’t look as good as what could be acquired by other means. This kind of rendered a large portion of the crafting mechanic invalid for me, as not much would have changed if I had picked up those few items from the shop.

Crafting has pros and cons in New Horizons for me.

Crafting also requires crafting ingredients such as wood, clay, and iron. These can be found on a player’s island – but are not exactly in abundance. This was far more noticeable early in my playthrough, where finding a single iron nugget or piece of clay was important for crafting projects. And I have to say… that was kind of annoying and frustrating. For example, iron nuggets and clay can be acquired only by hitting rocks. Every island has six rocks, five of which dish out crafting ingredients and one of which dishes out money. When you’ve tapped your five available rocks, if you’re still missing a vital ingredient you only have two options: spend 2,000 Nook Miles (a form of in-game currency) on a ticket to a random island which you hope has more rocks to hit, or wait till the next day. There were many occasions, especially early in the game, where getting 2,000 Nook Miles was out of reach, and the only choice was to wait.

While we’re on the subject of things that are frustrating, New Horizons introduces that dreaded feature: item durability. After a few uses, tools break and have to be replaced. They can be replaced by crafting new ones or by buying new ones, but the way this is implemented is just plain annoying. Aside from Minecraft, I can’t recall a single game where items that regularly broke was fun or anything more than padding to make the game seem like it has more going on. Item durability in New Horizons simply is not fun and makes the game frustrating to play. Even the supposedly more durable tools that can be acquired later in a playthrough don’t last all that long, and if you’re faced with a big task – like chopping down dozens of trees or digging up a lot of flowers – be prepared to run back-and-forth to your crafting table. Tools also don’t provide any indication of how close they are to breaking – something which would at least allow for some forward planning.

The way tools are crafted is annoying, too, and demonstrates one of the disappointments of New Horizons’ crafting mechanic. There are two categories of tool: “flimsy” tools and just regular ones. In order to craft a normal tool – an axe, fishing rod, or shovel, for example – players must first craft the “flimsy” version. And there’s no way to skip the silly little animation that plays during the crafting process, meaning it’s a chore to craft practically anything, and a double-chore to craft regular tools. Fishing bait is another example of why this is annoying: this one-time-use item, which you may need to use a lot of if you’re trying to catch a specific fish or lots of fish, can only be crafted one at a time, with the dumb animation playing every single time. At the very least it should be possible – assuming the player has the required ingredients – to craft the standard version of tools without having to sit through two identical crafting animations every time. If tools were more durable this would be less noticeable, but because of the aforementioned irritating item durability, you’ll be crafting tools almost every day if you play for more than a few minutes. And that’s not to mention how annoying it is to be part-way through a task only to have to stop and build a new tool.

I ended up setting up a dozen or so crafting tables around my island so that there was always one nearby, but even then I found this aspect of the game to be annoying, verging on insufferable. I welcome the idea of crafting for decorative items and the like, but tied to these tools which don’t last very long and are annoying to craft it’s downright irksome. New Horizons is just the latest in a long line of titles that have tried and failed to imitate this feature from Minecraft, and I wish they hadn’t bothered. No other title has got it right, and it just isn’t fun.

The second major new feature New Horizons introduces is the ability to make changes to the physical landscape of a player’s island – terraforming. Both cliffs and rivers can be built and destroyed, and this does offer a significant amount of customisation. Cliffs are new in themselves to the Animal Crossing series, and they do add a new level – pun intended – to the landscape of the player’s island. I’ve seen online players who rearranged their entire island to look completely different, sinking hundreds of hours into the terraforming feature alone. My own experience of it was that it was interesting, but after I’d spent a little time getting my island into the form I wanted, the feature wasn’t revisited. There are also limitations to what it can do – for example, it can’t be used to change the island’s beaches in any way, nor where the river mouths are.

A beach in New Horizons.

Players are also able to lay down paths – officially, this time, and not just by dropping custom designs on the ground! – and move the island’s buildings. The latter feature is something that’s genuinely great, as it means the player can have control over where every island resident builds their house, as well as the locations of the museum and shops. The island’s town hall – renamed Resident Services for New Horizons – can’t be moved, though, and I don’t really see why not. As with terraforming, this particular feature was something I didn’t get a lot of use out of – after putting most buildings where I wanted them in the first place, there wasn’t a great deal of need to move everything around. However, in both cases, players who are more imaginative than I am may find themselves using those mechanics more often!

The ability to place most items outdoors also opens up a huge amount of customisation potential for the island. Players can create all kinds of themed areas, and there really are a huge number of furniture items to collect. One area I created was a kind of outdoor diner, placing a number of food-themed items as well as tables and chairs in one part of the island. With such a huge number of items, players could create almost anything from a sci-fi themed area to a Japanese zen garden. The only downside is that most items can’t be interacted with, and those that can only have a single short animation. If you’re happy to just decorate and enjoy the aesthetic that’s no problem, and it’s part of the Animal Crossing experience. But it can be disappointing to spend a lot of your hard-earned Bells on an item, or a long time scavenging for crafting ingredients, to find that it doesn’t do anything at all. For example, there’s a playground ride than can’t be sat on or ridden, a football that can’t be kicked around, a pool table that doesn’t do anything at all when interacted with, and many more besides. Some items do something, though: musical instruments all play a tune, seats can be sat on, and the aforementioned food items mostly have some kind of animation attached so that when interacted with they change their appearance at least.

Most in-game items are bought and sold with Bells – the currency of the world of Animal Crossing that has been present since the first entry in the series. A handful of others are only available for New Horizons’ second in-game currency, Nook Miles. I have a love-hate relationship with this second currency. Firstly, I do appreciate that the way Nook Miles are earned. Performing mundane in-game tasks, like plucking weeds, watering flowers, talking to islanders, etc. all yield Nook Miles, and this gives players an incentive to do these things even after the novelty of doing them for their own sake has worn off. But when it comes to spending earned Nook Miles, after a certain point there really wasn’t much I wanted to get. The roster of items and crafting recipes available for purchase with Nook Miles never changes, and there are only a handful of each. Otherwise, Nook Miles can be exchanged for terraforming options – including the ability to move water and cliffs, as mentioned above – and for Nook Miles Tickets.

The terraforming options, while individually expensive, are one-off purchases, and as I’ve already covered, after I’d used them a few times I was kind of done with that aspect of the game. The Nook Miles Tickets allow players to travel to a “mystery island”, where they will have the chance to gather crafting ingredients, pick up fruit and flowers, and occasionally meet potential new island residents, among other things. I know a lot of people have been having fun with the Nook Miles Tickets, but I honestly found that this aspect of the game gets old fast. 2,000 Nook Miles are required per ticket, and each ticket is only valid for one trip. But the so-called unique mystery islands, which in-game dialogue makes a big deal about how the pilot destroys the route map after each trip, are actually very samey. There are about ten islands – with several being very common and a few being incredibly rare, with a less than 1% chance to visit them on any given trip. After you’ve been to one of the “common” island types a couple of times you quickly realise it’s laid out identically to the last time you visited, with every tree and rock and pond in the same spot. In a pinch, to gather missing crafting ingredients for example, the mystery islands can be useful. But they aren’t particularly fun, and it can be frustrating to save up 2,000 Nook Miles for a ticket only to land on an island you’ve already been to or to not land on a specific island that you were hoping to – especially after arriving at the same mystery island three times in a row! On several occasions I set out in search of something specific – like extra wood, extra clay, extra iron, etc. – only to be annoyed to land on an island that had none of what I was looking for.

Chopping trees in New Horizons.

One feature of the Animal Crossing series is the placeholder icons used to represent different items – tools all look like a red toolbox, fossils all look like an ammonite, furniture items look like a leaf, etc. This made sense in past games, as I’m sure the older systems were much more limited in what they could display. But New Horizons is a Switch title, and some of those limitations should no longer be present. At the very least I’d have liked to see individual icons for each tool or category of tool, as well as seeing each individual item of furniture in my inventory. Having to sort through a dozen or more identical leaves to find one specific item gets old fast. This is one quality-of-life improvement that the upgrade to the Switch allowed, but for some reason Nintendo didn’t take advantage of it.

From the point of view of aesthetic and graphics, while we’re on the subject, New Horizons looks great. Even on a large 4K television it looks really good, and while I have seen a few minor graphical issues – fish often appear to have stray pixels when being caught, for example – none really spoilt my enjoyment of the game. New Horizons retains the Animal Crossing aesthetic, but upgrades and upscales it for the new console. In that sense it’s hardly innovative – trees, buildings, animals, players, icons, etc. all look the same as they have in previous games. But there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily.

In-game dialogue… this is a tricky one. The anthropomorphic animals which populate a player’s island have personality types, and each personality type has a set of dialogue. However, there don’t seem to be very many personality types: my island had three animals who all liked to talk about working out and hitting the gym (I called them the “gym bros”). Because the dialogue for each personality type is identical, if you’re unfortunate as I was to get three or more of the same type, conversations with the island animals gets pretty repetitive. And that’s not to mention that a number of in-game events, including pretty common ones, don’t have any variety at all in terms of dialogue. For example, if a player walks into an islander’s home while they’re crafting an item, the same line of dialogue always appears. At first it’s not noticeable, but after a few days of playing I started to see more and more lines of dialogue that I’d already seen. It was compounded by having multiple islanders of the same personality type in one case, but even with the others I quickly found what they had to say repetitive.

Isabelle, who along with Tom Nook is one of the series’ main characters, is also incredibly repetitive in her “morning announcements”. Every time a new day begins, Isabelle will pop up and is supposed to let players know what, if anything, is happening that day. But there are two problems: the first is that she doesn’t actually inform players of what’s happening. Most days there will be something going on or a special character visiting, but Isabelle doesn’t inform players of that. And on days when there’s “no news”, she has only a handful of different things to say – and again, these get old fast. It would be better to just have her say in one line “there is no news” and skip the silly repetition.

Isabelle’s morning announcements are a wasted opportunity to keep players informed of goings-on.

While we’re talking about announcements, I was convinced for a long time that my island’s in-game noticeboard was glitched. After a couple of notices appeared there on my first day of playing, nothing else happened for the longest time afterwards – literally several weeks – despite many significant events going on. In New Leaf, the noticeboard would inform players of things like a bridge being built or a fishing competition, as well as a new resident moving in or someone moving out. My noticeboard, at time of writing, still has those two day-one posts, one post about an islander’s birthday, and one post about the shop being closed for renovation. And that’s all it has after two months. Between this and Isabelle’s morning announcements, I feel like something isn’t working right. I have no doubt I’ve missed goings-on as a result of the game not keeping me informed.

I have written about this previously, but it’s worth reiterating that the “one island per console” limitation is just an all-around shitty business practice. It’s anti-consumer, designed to use pester power to force families to purchase more than one Switch or buy the inevitable “second island DLC” whenever that may come. There is no technical limitation for New Horizons that means there can only be one primary save file, so it is purely a business decision. In households where more than one person wants to play the game, one player will get to be the “main” player, able to make all the decisions about the island and play the game to the fullest, and the others will be secondary players, unable to properly enjoy the game or take advantage of its features. That is unfair, it is anti-consumer, and Nintendo should fix it now and fix it for free.

Winter time in New Horizons.

After two months and over 120 hours, I’ve kind of hit the wall with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’ve collected as many items as I can be bothered to, I’ve reshaped the island as much as I wanted to, I’ve talked to the islanders as many times as I could, and now I’m ready to take a break. I might delete my data and start a new file, either now or in a few weeks. There is definitely more to New Horizons than I’ve seen, but almost all of that is just fluff. It’s different clothing or different items of furniture. I’ve played and “completed” the bulk of the game. After 120+ hours, that’s fair enough, right? Ordinarily I’d say heck yes, because I can hardly think of any other single-player games that I’d spend so much time with. But when I compare New Horizons to New Leaf, a game that I played way more and for way longer, I feel at least a little disappointed. New Leaf seemed to offer more to do when the shine of playing a new game wore off, and it certainly offered significantly more in terms of playing with friends.

Do I recommend Animal Crossing: New Horizons? It’s hard not to, really. The game is a lot of fun, despite some frustrating elements, and as a slow-paced game that can be played very casually for just a few minutes a day, there’s almost nothing else like it on the market. It’s cute and unique, and if you already own a Switch and have been considering it, I’d say go for it. Despite my criticisms, I wouldn’t have sunk so many hours into this game if I wasn’t enjoying myself at least most of the time! I do feel, however, that many early reviews glossed over some of the game’s limitations and issues. In a way that’s understandable, as some of them only manifest dozens of hours into a playthrough.

New Horizons makes a few changes to the successful Animal Crossing formula. Some of these changes worked perfectly, but others didn’t quite stick the landing. I miss New Leaf’s mini-games, without which I feel New Horizons’ longevity as a title to enjoy with friends is severely curtailed. I was still playing New Leaf earlier this year, seven years on from its release. Will I still be playing New Horizons after such a long time? If I’m still alive and kicking in 2027, remind me to come back and tell you.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available now for Nintendo Switch. The Animal Crossing series is the copyright of Nintendo. All artwork courtesy of the Animal Crossing: New Horizons press kit on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

My thoughts on the “console war”

Barring a major shift in circumstances, which we may yet see if the coronavirus pandemic isn’t sorted out in the next few months, Xbox and PlayStation plan to launch new consoles before Christmas. They will replace this generation’s Xbox One and PlayStation 4, which were released in 2013, and will join the Nintendo Switch to form the “big three” gaming platforms heading into 2021 and beyond.

When I’m in a gaming mood I’m primarily a PC player. I find PC to be a more versatile platform, and the abundance of digital shops on PC means that sales and discounts are aplenty, which I absolutely feel makes PC an appealing choice even if the up-front costs can be higher than a console. But that’s a whole different article!

When Google Stadia launched towards the end of last year, I felt it had the potential to be disruptive to the gaming market in all kinds of good ways. To understand why, we need to step back in time.

The Xbox Series X was unveiled late last year.

For a brief moment just after the millennium, there were four companies in the home console market, and they were, broadly speaking, all trying to appeal to the same core audience of gamers. There was Sega, with the Dreamcast, Sony, with its PlayStation brand, Nintendo, and Microsoft, which launched its first Xbox console in 2001. This moment wasn’t to last, of course, as the Dreamcast would prove a failure forcing Sega out of the market altogether. Nintendo’s GameCube was also not a resounding success, and the lessons the company learned led to the creation of the Wii in 2006, and from that point on, Nintendo has been fishing in a different pond to the other two console brands.

So since the mid-2000s, when Nintendo decided to go in a completely different direction with the Wii, Xbox and PlayStation have been the two main brands in direct competition. Nintendo’s current offering, the Switch, is a very different platform from anything Microsoft and Sony have, being half-handheld and half-console, and has a very different hardware setup. As a result, many gamers (myself included) will have a primary platform for playing most games and a Nintendo for playing their titles. I’m currently in the early stages of building my island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons so stay tuned for my thoughts on that at some point!

The two main competitors, PlayStation and Xbox, have taken very different routes since 2013, and the console market is in danger, I feel, of becoming a monopoly. It needs something major to shake things up – hence my excitement at Stadia potentially doing so. Microsoft’s Xbox brand has been focused on being a “multimedia” brand instead of purely gaming, and its output reflects that. Microsoft has also seen a steady growth in the PC gaming market and has chosen to release some previously exclusive titles on PC as well – the most significant being Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which is as close as Xbox has to a signature franchise. Only Halo 5 remains a console exclusive right now, and I have to say it feels like only a matter of time before that, too, is ported to PC. Microsoft have been working hard to turn the Xbox One into a multimedia centre – something people could have in their living rooms to watch television, use streaming services, and even do things like make video calls.

As a result of Xbox’s foray into the PC space and using their platform to promote things like video streaming as much as gaming, PlayStation has been the dominant force in this console generation. They’ve offered many more exclusive titles, and the PlayStation 4 has outsold the Xbox One by at least two-to-one, perhaps even more. While Xbox as a brand is still healthy and commercially viable, it doesn’t leave the overall state of the market feeling especially great, as competition between the two companies is necessary to keep quality high and for developers to keep pushing the boundaries.

The DualSense controller is all we’ve seen of the PlayStation 5 so far.

Google Stadia is clearly not going to be the disruptive force I hoped for, at least not any time soon. Its minuscule userbase and tiny library of games has seen to that, though I hope Google will continue development as the core technology is interesting at least. And as far as I know, no one else is planning to get in on the home console market right now. There have been past attempts, like the Ouya and other android-based consoles, but none have been particularly successful. It took a company with the clout and financial resources of Microsoft in 2001 to break into the market for the first time as a newcomer, and if Google is unable to successfully enter the gaming space I can see that failure being offputting for anyone considering investing significant money into a new home console.

So we’re left with a two-plus-one situation in the home console space. PlayStation versus Xbox, with Nintendo off to one side largely doing its own thing. Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be comparable in terms of their internal hardware, especially as both seem to be using AMD’s Zen chips and incorporating ray-tracing graphics, so the choice between systems will be more about marketing than technology. Xbox has already signalled that their multimedia and PC plans will continue into the new generation, and it was even suggested at one stage late last year that every Xbox Series X game will also be available on Xbox One for the first year or two of the new console’s life. This combination will, I feel, give the PlayStation 5 a distinct advantage.

So where do I stand? I’ll be honest, I don’t really have a dog in this fight any more. As someone who plays primarily on PC it’s less important to me. Later in the generation, when prices start to come down, I can perhaps see myself picking up a console, but it would only be if there was some must-play exclusive that didn’t make it to PC. And of the two, PlayStation seems most likely to offer something along those lines so it’s not impossible I’d pick up a PlayStation 5 in the next few years. It certainly won’t be at or near launch, though.

However, I’ve never really been a big PlayStation gamer. In the generations after the first PlayStation launched I owned a Nintendo 64, a Dreamcast, an Xbox, and then an Xbox 360. It wasn’t until much later when I picked up a second-hand PlayStation 3. By then I was less into gaming and I’ve only played a handful of PlayStation 3 and 4 titles over the last few years. This is purely subjective, but as someone who likes to play some games with a controller instead of keyboard and mouse, I find Xbox controllers more comfortable to use. The original Xbox controller from 2001 – known as the “duke” – is actually one of my favourites, despite the justifiable criticism it received at the time for its large size!

The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will join the Nintendo Switch in the home console market.

Looking in from the outside as someone who has no plans to purchase either of the new consoles imminently, what I hope is that both are successful for their parent companies and that both are going to be great platforms for gaming. I’d like to see a bigger stride this console generation than the last, particularly where graphics are concerned, but it seems unlikely. Many PlayStation 4 and Xbox One titles don’t look much different from games released in the latter part of the previous generation, and gameplay and graphics in general have not advanced nearly as far over the last few years as they had in previous generations. Earlier console generations brought huge advancements over their predecessors. The Nintendo 64, for example, was an incredibly powerful machine compared to the Super Nintendo, which was itself streets ahead of the earlier NES. I remember in the late 1990s and early 2000s when there was talk of genuine photorealism by 2010, 2015, or 2020. While some projects can come close to that, we aren’t there in a general sense. And to make a long story short, the fact that the next generation of consoles will be a progression or iteration on what is already available in terms of graphics and gameplay makes them less exciting to me personally.

What we will see are smaller quality-of-life improvements. Things like longer battery life in wireless peripherals like controllers, as well as a move from hard discs to solid-state drives will give console gamers something to appreciate. There might also be things like faster download speeds, quicker installation from optical discs – which are still going to be present – and support for 4K resolution and video playback. With most new televisions being 4K that makes a lot of sense.

Overall, the biggest issue that is currently facing Xbox and PlayStation is the pandemic. Both in terms of disruption to their manufacturing and logistics and the wider economic impact on consumer spending, the launches scheduled for later this year may yet be delayed, and if they aren’t, sales may not initially be as strong as they were in 2013 or 2005/06. The consoles themselves will be of some interest, but what I’m most interested to see is how new games plan to take advantage of some of the new hardware capabilities. Pushing the boundaries and creating games that are bigger, better, and more visually impressive than ever is something I’ll always be interested to see, even though I don’t really mind which brand or company “wins”.

All brands mentioned above are the copyright of their respective parent companies. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons and its disgraceful business model

Nintendo’s biggest Switch release of the last few months is arguably Animal Crossing: New Horizons. If you aren’t familiar with the series, it can be hard to do it justice in words. As briefly as possible, it’s a very slow-paced, cartoon-styled “life-simulator”, where players spend their days (which play out in real-time) fishing, catching insects, buying and selling clothes and home decor, and just relaxing in a cute little village populated by anthropomorphic animals. See, I told you it was hard to explain.

After Animal Crossing: New Leaf in 2013 introduced a number of new features, many were wondering if New Horizons could top it. And now that reviews are in following the game’s release last week, the answer seems to be a solid “yes”. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has received praise across the board for almost every aspect of its design and gameplay, and many players who have picked up the game have been loving it.

But Animal Crossing: New Horizons has a flaw, and it’s an intentional flaw. An incredibly basic feature has been cut out, a feature which has been present in countless games going back to at least the 1990s: the ability to have more than one save file. That limits players to one save file per console.

Multiple save games were an option in 1994’s Donkey Kong Country – which was also published by Nintendo.

What this means in practice is that when the first player has played Animal Crossing: New Horizons and created their island, no other players can make their own island. They can create a character, but their character has to share the first player’s island. Not only does this mean that one player can mess things up for another – even unintentionally – but it also means that everyone aside from the “main” first player are “secondary” players, and they have fewer options for things to do during their time on the island. Basically, one player gets to set up the island how they want, and the others don’t.

This is not an oversight. Nor is it caused by some “technological limitation” in the capabilities of the Nintendo Switch. Save files in any game are minuscule compared to the size of the game’s own files, and the Switch is actually capable of supporting far more demanding games than Animal Crossing: New Horizons. So if it wasn’t a mistake, and it wasn’t mandated by technical issues, why is New Horizons lacking a basic game feature that has been present since before many players were even born? Obviously the reason is money.

We need only look to Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp – an Android and iOS game from a couple of years ago – for how Nintendo was content to shamelessly exploit the worst aspects of pay-to-play “micro” transactions in the Animal Crossing series. The lessons they learned there seem to have carried over to New Horizons. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that New Horizons’ in-game currencies – called Bells and Nook Miles – would be made available to purchase with real-world money one day. But only after all of the reviews have been written and they don’t need to put a warning label on the box, of course.

There’s only one reason why a games company would remove long-established features from a new game: they want to sell it as downloadable content later. This happened most egregiously with Electronic Arts’ The Sims series. The Sims 4 cut out many basic features that had been present in earlier titles – like the ability to build swimming pools – only to sell them later as DLC. It’s clear that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is taking a similar approach, so be on the lookout for a “second island” DLC some time soon. It’ll probably cost £10 or more.

Many games publishers have spent much of the last console generation pushing the boundaries of what they could get away with in terms of “micro” transactions and DLC. A lot of today’s biggest titles take their cues from mobile games and free-to-play games like Fortnite in terms of how they’re set up to make money after launch. Just because Nintendo is a family-friendly company doesn’t mean they get a free pass where other companies draw criticism. In fact, specifically because they’re a family-friendly company, and a game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons is marketed at children as much as adults, do they need greater scrutiny and to have their greedy, scummy, money-grubbing policies and practices called out.

Promo screenshot for Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Nintendo hopes that families with more than one person who might want to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons will have to either face interminable arguments about who harvested all the fruit, who sold what precious item, or who messed up who’s in-game garden, etc. or buy this DLC when they release it. I’m sure they’d also love parents to consider getting each of their squabbling kids their own Nintendo Switch – but obviously most families couldn’t afford that.

The sad thing is that this game should be incredibly fun. It should be something kids and adults can enjoy – together or separately. Nintendo has built up a lot of goodwill with families because of their lighter, cuter titles that aren’t focused on violence and gore or aggressive online multiplayer. But their recent moves to chasing the worst video game industry trends when it comes to nickel-and-diming players should be called out – and many players have taken to Metacritic and elsewhere to express their frustration.

If you’re considering picking up Animal Crossing: New Horizons, be aware of the game’s artificial limitation. It may not seem like a big deal, but it has the potential to cause problems, especially between siblings. When we were kids, my sister and I would get into arguments over the dumbest things sometimes; I can easily see New Horizons being the cause of many arguments in a household with several players and one Switch. In fact, it’s arguably been designed that way to try to drive sales of consoles and the inevitable DLC.

Nintendo: fix this. Fix it now, and fix it for free. It’s an incredibly basic feature, and stripping it out won’t make you any money or win you any fans. It’s patently obvious that the only reason for this is greed. As companies like Bioware and Bethesda have found out to their cost in recent years, players will only tolerate so much. And as Electronic Arts have discovered, a company’s reputation can end up in the gutter thanks to treating their customers this way. It’s shady and scummy, and the Animal Crossing series deserves better.

Oh and the first Animal Crossing game on the GameCube in 2001? That had multiple save files.

The Animal Crossing series is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.