As many of you may know, ten classic GameBoy Advance games became available for free to those early adopters deemed the “3DS Ambassadors.” After several weeks with these games, I believe that I’m ready to share my impressions on each of these games in this humble collection of pseudo-reviews. All ten lay in wait, right after the jump.
[Kirby and the Amazing Mirror]
I must admit, I am ever so slightly biased when it comes to this game. The only of the ambassador games that I had spent a substantial amount of time with before the downloads were available, I have probably beaten Kirby and the Amazing Mirror a couple dozen times, so I have much more to say about it. The game, for me, has almost infinite replay value. It never gets old to use Kirby’s varied powers to whale on enemies. Some of the powers are much more fun than others, though. The classics such as sword, fighter, and hammer are still amazing, as are Smash, which takes Kirby’s moves from Super Smash Brothers, and Master, Meta Knight’s flaming sword, which is the best ultimate copy ability in any Kirby game yet. However, some abilities such as cutter and laser lack varied skill sets and are much less entertaining. Also, the loose structure of the game, giving for nonlinear exploration allows the bosses to be beaten in practically any order, in addition to making the true challenge of the game not combat, but exploration. Add in a fantastic multipart final boss fight, a mountain of collectibles, and three other Kirbies, and you’ve got a fantastic game! However, there is one more gripe: occasionally, a puzzle may require the assistance of your NPC Kirby buddies, which never works out well and ends in frustration. The negative aspects, however, are far outweighed by all that the game does right.
[F-Zero: Maximum Velocity]
Maximum Velocity is the first F-Zero game that I’ve laid my hands on, and it is excellent. But difficult. Oh, so very difficult. There is a slight learning curve that is necessary to be able to actually play the game competently, which involves plenty of banging into walls, being shocked by the strips alongside the edge of the road, and machine explosions. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, however, you’re in for a treat. The machines control excellently- the only reason for failure is the lack of ability to navigate the twisting tracks and tight turns, ending up either at the edge, or in a rough strip that slows your machine. Once the machines get going, they get fast, requiring the full attention and skill of the player to be handled without falling behind in the race or even exploding. If avoiding the walls is impossible, the second most important part of the game is rebounding off of the walls in an advantageous way to preserve momentum. The music is intense and high energy, a perfect fit for the high-speed racing of the game. The graphics, while very dated by modern standards, are serviceable. Did I mention that this game is hard? Because it is. Very hard.
[Mario Kart: Super Circuit]
I’ll be brief on this one: this game is horrible. Trying to turn causes the kart to swerve violently if the D-pad is held for even more than a fraction of a second. The graphics are distinctly mediocre. The tracks aren’t fun. After being raised on 3D Mario Kart, they feel bland and boring. The high-speed play of F-Zero may make simple tracks intense and exciting, but it doesn’t work as well for Mario Kart. Of all of the ambassador games, this is the one I have spent the least amount of time with, for obvious reasons.
[Mario Vs. Donkey Kong]
Drawing more heavily from the games featuring the name in the second half of the title than the first, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong is a surprisingly fun puzzle platformer. Other than the boss battles, the point of the game is simple: Get the key to a door, then pick up a stolen toy at the end of the second part of the level, picking up some 1-ups and 3 colored presents along the way. The game is relatively slow paced, reflecting the lessened focus on action and stressing the puzzle elements. Among some of the other games that MvDK draws for are the original Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and of all things, Super Mario Bros 2 (the American one). The puzzles, while not especially hard, are fun, and the game has an excellent sense of progression, with each level feeling a step up from the previous one. The game is definitely a solid and entertaining entry, despite its overall low-key feeling.
While Metroid Fusion is a superb game, there are several things holding it back, most notably Super Metroid. Despite my best efforts to refrain from doing so, I feel like I am comparing every moment of the game to its amazing predecessor. To sum the game up, I feel like I can simply say, “It’s fantastic, but not as good as Super Metroid,” except for one or two areas. The one area where Fusion surpasses Super Metroid is vertical movement, with the addition of a ledge hang and climbable walls. However, the controls leave a bit to be desired, due to the limitations of the GBA button layout. The game is still challenging, however, and very entertaining. The atmosphere, while not as well done as in Super Metroid, still manages to give the sense of isolation important to the Metroid franchise. Sadly, due to the setting, much of the sense of exploration is lost, only appearing strongly when Samus is forced to make her way through unmarked passages. While much of what I say may seem negative, my experience with the game has been almost completely positive- it’s simply because Metroid Fusion has such a high standard to keep up that I feel the need to be so critical.
There is a name for WarioWare (full title: WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!): that name is insanity. One day, a man at Nintendo didn’t have a big enough attention span for Mario Party, and thus WarioWare was born. The main focus of the game is the titular microgame: a tiny, several second challenge that requires the player not only to figure out what must be done, but also to do it, figuring out the controls along the way. While almost all of the games are very simple, the hectic nature of the game makes it a decent challenge to complete every challenge unharmed. The challenges range from teeth brushing to bamboo slicing to coin gathering to nose picking- and that’s only scratching the surface. The premises of the microgames are often enough to elicit a chuckle, as are the cutscenes that accompany each character-specific level. It’s very hard to find fault with WarioWare, but there are one or two microgames (damn trampoline…) that are almost impossible to figure out how to play. While the sheer volume makes the problem negligible, it’s still a minor annoyance. Other than that, I can think of nothing to complain about. WarioWare is a great game with great fun, and I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to it again and again.
[Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi’s Island]
Super Mario Advance 3 actually contains not one game, but two: the beloved Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island and a remake of the classic arcade game Mario Bros. However, the one that people actually came for and will stay for is Yoshi’s Island- Mario Bros. is just a fun little distraction. Even when slightly warped on the 3DS screen due to pixel upscaling, the hand-drawn graphics of Yoshi’s Island are just as fantastic as the day the game was released. The music is also superb, helping the colorful and playful mood of the game grow exponentially. That said, I’m going slightly mad- I’ve had the amazing theme stuck in my head for ages now. The first game in what is now the Yoshi franchise, Yoshi’s Island forgoes the speedy running of Mario for a more leisurely pace, filled with enemy-eating, egg-throwing, flutter-jumpin’, and ground-poundin’ (b’ring-HA!). The game is a decent challenge on each level, and if you make it through, you’ll be graded on your collection of red coins and flowers, and also baby Mario’s remaining health. Let’s just say my parents would have been less than thrilled if I showed them a grade similar to the ones I’ve been receiving in this game. The boss fights are also quite fun and creative, with one of the highlights being the potted ghost. The fight itself wasn’t one of the most fun, but the concept was hilarious- beating the planted poltergeist by pushing his pot off of a ledge. One of the best games on the SNES became one of the best games on the GBA, and it is now one of the best games in the Ambassador library.
[Wario Land 4]
Wario Land 4 is (obviously) the fourth installment in the Wario Land franchise, one that I quite enjoyed on the Gameboy and Gameboy Color. I was relieved to discover that my good memories of the franchise were not just nostalgia goggles based upon my ability to enjoy almost any game as a child. Wario’s a brute, and he loves him some money. In addition to his charge attack and running headbut, Wario gets stung, burnt, flattened, and zombified, among other things, all in his quest to be a greedy bastard. Each level is filled with an abundance of coins and jewels, as well as several other important collectibles. The level design adds to level replay value, forcing you to explore different areas of the level if you miss something the first time around. In an interesting twist, the point of the game is not to get to the end of the level, but back to the beginning portal after jumping on a frog-bomb-pedestal thing that sets off a mini world cataclysm accompanied by awesome music, causing some great tense moments. The game is fun, but the problem with it is that, among all of the other ambassador games, it doesn’t stick out very well.
[The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap]
Oh, boy. I think I’m going to get some flak for this one. Minish Cap seems to be missing something in a crucial area: the feeling of Zelda magic. Whether it’s the music, the graphics, the gameplay, or a combination of the three, something feels off. The game, in a way, feels like it’s trying to be too much like the 3D Zeldas, especially Wind Waker. The graphics themselves seem to be in a style that doesn’t fit as well with other 2D Zelda games, similar to the graphics of 4 Swords. My biggest complaint is the Chu-Chu, its design ripped directly from Wind Waker: it doesn’t feel like it fits in a world of sprites. Complaints aside, it’s a good game. If you’ve played a 2D Zelda, you (for the most part) know what is in store. Ezlo the hat, the titular twist, allows Link to shrink down to a miniscule size, putting a fun spin on the dual world mechanic. Instead of being a twisted version of Hyrule or Hyrule in a different time, the hidden world of Minish Cap is in plain sight. In addition, some of the new items are quite creative, such as the fun to use gust jar. As much as I want to like this game, however, there is still something keeping me from becoming fully immersed in it. Maybe I’ll overcome it, but maybe I won’t. I’ll just have to play more and see.
[Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones]
Fire Emblem. The tenth and final ambassador game. Previous to picking up the games, all I knew about Fire Emblem came from Smash Bros. As it turns out, the Strategy RPG has become, other than Kirby, my favorite out of all the ambassador titles. The variety of units- cavaliers, priests, wyvern riders, archers, thiefs, and more make for a well-rounded army, each character filling a vital role in your offensive. One of the biggest strengths of the game is the support system: by placing compatible members of the army close to each other, they can gain support points until they have what is called a support conversation, allowing them to reap benefits from standing next to each other. This not only leads to more depth of character, but it also makes the battlefield feel more alive, causing me to make many decisions not from pragmatism, but from emotions. The graphics are fantastic, especially in the entertaining battle animations, and the music is superb as well. The only problem with the game is its difficulty- one wrong move can spell doom for one of your beloved characters. Hell, I’ve lost an entire mission because some lucky bastard landed a critical on a unit with full health. Death in the game is permanent, and due to the connections I’ve made with the characters, I’ve never found myself willing to complete a mission in which anybody had been killed. Practical reasons did factor in as well, but they were only my secondary concerns. I hear that Sacred Stones is worse than the first Fire Emblem game to be released in the United States. Considering how amazing this game is, it’s predecessor must be absolutely stunning!