Mario Party – 20 years of Mushroom Kingdom Mayhem

One of the longest video games series of our time wasn’t always such friendly fun. I revisit the 90’s original party.

Ain’t No Party Like A Mario Party

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Let me indulge you for a moment. Imagine a table top board game rendered on-screen as a video game. Then, imagine beloved video game characters, both good and evil, fully playable as if they were counters on several themed game boards. An every-person-for-themselves scenario, and only one can come out on top. Sounds good, right? Well twenty years ago, that very concept became a Nintendo franchise like no other. Twenty years ago, Mario Party was born.

Mario Party was released this week back in 1999 in Europe for the Nintendo 64. It was a dark time when most European releases were released months, years (sometimes never) separated from the US schedule. The Nintendo 64 was white hot following Ocarina of Time’s release just 3 months earlier. Nintendo enlisted Bomberman creators Hudson Soft to develop the series. Given Hudson Soft’s success with that particular party favourite, they seemed the perfect fit. Now a franchise spanning 11 games across 5 consoles, 5 handheld spin-offs, and with almost 45 million copies sold across all its instalments, Mario Party is one of lesser-renowned Nintendo franchise feat. But a successful franchise nonetheless.

The premise is simple; players pick one of the several Mario-related characters each, up to a maximum of four for each session. The choice of game boards range from a Donkey Kong jungle to a Yoshi-themed tropical island, with spaces and events littered throughout. Each player takes their turn by rolling the dice, then that’s where Mario Party takes the board game concept to the next level: the mini-games.

This 3-on-1 is fun for all but one

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Whether it’s pairs, three on one or everyone for themselves, the mini-games are the magic of the Mario Party franchise. Some test your reflexes, some your speed, but mostly your fingers as well as your patience as you desperately chase after those all-important coins. First you get the coins, then you get the stars, then you get the glory. Whoever has the most Stars at the end wins the game, with performance on the board and in mini-games also a factor in obtaining that sweet, sweet gold.

But the competition doesn’t end there. Anyone who has experienced any of the later instalments in the series will already be familiar with the above, but the original allowed for much stiffer competition. You may be competing for the most coins, ergo the most stars, but Mario Party gave everyone the opportunity to steal coins and stars from other players. This may well have been considered too harsh down the line for the developers of a family-oriented board game, but definitely served as its most competitive element. It’s a solid reminder of why none of the other entries have ever lived up to the original.

Live or die, make your choice

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Let your imagination wander once again. It’s 1999. How did such a multiplayer concept, of which it was designed for, but not limited to, work in an era where online gaming was yet to exist? That’s right, no hiding behind headsets, and no shouting obscenities at strangers. Instead, as a group of friends sat in a room together, bound by the limitations of controller cables, and each other’s company, shouting obscenities in each other’s faces. As a result, the language was actually cleaner, but the rivalries were anything but. Ah, simpler times.

The Nintendo 64 was also blessed with controllers not costing £60 a time. Which is just as well considering Mario Party became that very controller’s nemesis. Many of Mario Party’s mini games required repeated rapid rotation of the controller’s central analog stick. Where there are competitors there is always competition; I remember having an imprint of the N64 joystick in my hand for days on end. It was a small price to pay to Pedal Power to that light. It became a higher price for Nintendo, who offered gloves to players following complaints back in 2002. To this day the original Mario Party has never been released on any form of Virtual Console, with ‘controller controversy’ likely having a huge say in that.

Lots of boo-tiful mini-games to test your dexterity

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It’s clear that Mario Party was damaging for both the N64 controller and its players. With straining friendships and livelihoods in the pursuit of amassing the most stars, something had to give. My experience took on an interesting new dynamic: the red roulette controller. My poor red controller had taken the biggest brunt of Mario Party mutilation. The on-screen cursor had a mind of its own. Not to mention fighting against my character walking one way as if dragging a kid away from a playground. Even on a precious star space the cursor would move between yes and no so fast it was pure luck whether you got that all important star. It unleashed a furore outside of the typical Mario Party scope. It was frustrating but also a hilariously brilliant inadvertent twist that only enriched the party atmosphere.

Mario Party as a series has become somewhat derided over time, given the overall familiarity across all of its multiple releases. But the truth is it’s a series that has all the hallmarks of a true Nintendo series. For each console, the series offered something new in line with its technology; the motion controls of the Wii, the microphone capability of the Gamecube, and one of the few games to make true use of the Wii U’s portable gamepad.

Mario Party’s impact on the videogame scene of the time also cannot be underestimated. The Mario Party genre, if you will, paved the way for similar releases elsewhere. Crash Bash came to PS1 just a year later, and another main rival to Mario Party’s crown should have been Sonic Shuffle. However, the Sega/Hudson Soft collaboration simply turned out just to be a baffling board game with fun-hindering games dotted around. But none of these, even its sequels, will ever have the same impact as the original. That seems an obvious eventuality some 20 years on. But, Mario Party had all the right elements of competition to be just as it was intended to be: a party.

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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time at 20 – An Experience for the Ages

20 years ago, Nintendo released what would become one of the most influential video games for the next 20 years.  From slashing monsters to solving dungeon mazes, from open-world exploration to creating a destiny. Its a game that had everything. Who knew a 32MB cartridge could hold so much magic?

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There are many words to describe the Ocarina of Time experience. The one that springs to mind today, looking back on the unforgettable experiences Ocarina of Time delivers, is preparation. The vivid introduction begins with the subtle sound of a horse galloping. What follows is an almost-soothing soft-piano number that seamlessly transforms into one of Ocarina of Time’s many mournful melodies. It serves as a taste of things to come; danger, discovery, destiny. It is one of many sequences that was technologically innovative of the time, whilst still remaining incredibly evocative today. And so, 20 years ago this week, one of the world’s greatest and most important video games, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, was released.

Any entry into the Legend of Zelda series is a noteworthy release of anyone’s gaming calendar. But even this, coming 6 years after the grand adventure A Link to the Past, was an epic 3D open-world adventure that didn’t seem possible until it became reality. Coming at a time when the journalistic written word and screenshots were the only viable means of hype, it was there in abundance.

This was the N64’s biggest release to date, and it showed; upon its UK release on 11th December 1998, it was quickly a sought-after item due to a stock shortage. Its impact was clearly underestimated, and 17-year-old me was a hugely despondent figure upon missing out on that initial supply. That is until, on one college lunch break, I stumbled across a game store that had just opened in time for the Christmas rush. And there it was: the final copy in the shop. Its simplistic yet gold-on-black box art glistening at me. It was my very own ‘what’s in the chest’ Zelda moment, in retrospect. Indeed, Ocarina of Time was the birth of those treasure-finding moments, which has become a series-constant ever since. Even with all the hype, perfect reviews and scores, only upon that first glimpse of the iconic introduction prepared me for what was to come.

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For what is now remembered as a childhood classic, Ocarina of Time is a bleak and scary tale at times. Link’s initial and indicative nightmare of Princess Zelda fleeing from Hyrule Castle and being pursued by the demonic Ganandorf is a lot for a young lad to deal with. All things considered, I managed OK. But all jokes aside, there is a lot of burden placed upon our young Link. His transition into a young man is akin to that of Simba in The Lion King; his forced absence has led his homeland into ruin, and only he can stop the evil that has corrupted it. If you think about it, it’s pretty deep.

There are plenty of other scary moments, too. The first time you are frozen on the spot by the shriek of a Gibdo mummy instils immediate panic. The collectable Skulltullas have a house in Kakariko Village, where a family has been morphed into spiders with skull faces, is another hugely unsettling moment. The sense of duty bound as you make your way up Death Mountain as boulders come down at you. Or vanquishing each dense dungeon throughout the game.

But all these burdens are merely the sum of its parts; From the moment you first take control of Link to the last, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a magical experience. Exploring the quirky Kakariko Village and its interactive inhabitants. The underwater domain of the Zora’s. The maze-like Lost Woods. That first venture out onto Hyrule Field. All these areas and more are simply a joy to behold.

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Then there is the score which is a thing of beauty. The Hyrule Field theme is among the most stirring of Koji Kondo’s score. The theme of Kakariko village offers safety and sanctuary; often the case when running from the dangers of Hyrule Field. It is a soundtrack that traces Link’s journey from childhood prophecy to man of destiny with such aplomb it is no surprise to see it still rank among videogame’s greatest ever soundtracks. Then there is the music Link plays on command, courtesy of the simple chords denoted against the N64 C-button formation. Link can change day to night and vice versa, teleport to key locations, even summon your horse, Epona.

Where the treasured visuals, ambience and tonal shifts prepare you for different experiences on offer, the execution and vividness of the Ocarina of Time experience is something else to behold. Once the quest is over, that feeling of accomplishment is mirrored with reflection on Ocarina of Time’s vivid dungeons, be they beautiful (Forest Temple) or exasperating (Water Temple). And the bosses too remain vivid in the memory. The need to quickly shift from fire to ice against Twinrova, the grandstand final battle against Ganondorf/Ganon, even fighting a shadow version of yourself. I have found myself talking about them at some point for years and years now.

The genius and significance of Ocarina of Time lives on today. Not just through its various re-packages or Virtual Console releases, either. To say this was the first game of its kind and get so much of it right first time is simply incredible. The z-targeting system is used in some form even in games of today. The Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption series allows you to centre on your given target. As does other series such as Bayonetta. Many of today’s games have hint systems for fear you could get lost, and Navi is Ocarina of Time’s answer to that.

Like many of Nintendo’s beloved back catalogue, Ocarina of Time remains remarkably on-point today. It is no surprise that following its release Ocarina of Time would go on to dominate Top 10 lists for years and years. There may be many experiences like it today, particularly from Nintendo themselves given this became the blueprint, but Ocarina of Time is still up there with the best. It is a magical adventure that will no doubt live on forever.

 

Super NES Classic Edition Mini – Lowdown on the Games (Part 5)

Join me as i rundown the games for the Super Nes Mini console.

In September 2017 the dreams of retro videogames fans around the world were realised once again. The successor to the sold-out NES Mini, the Super NES Mini, hit stores worldwide. The Super NES Mini will follow the mould of the NES Mini by including 21 of the most classic games the platform has ever produced.

Parts 1-4 covered the 16 games available in all regions worldwide. This edition will cover the 5 Western exclusives. Children vs aliens, boxing, street fighting (wink wink), horror, even golf (of a sort). Talk about variety, eh?

Western Releases (17-21):-

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Earthbound

Developer: HAL Laboratory

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 0.44 Million (Unconfirmed)

My experience with Earthbound is limited. It was never released in the UK until 2013, so that’s my excuse. Oh wait, 4 years already? Jeez. Time does fly when you have too many games to play.

Earthbound (or Mother 2 in its native Japan) is the story of Ness, a young boy whose merry band need to save the world from impending doom. Sounds simple? Well, for the most part it is, but there is something wonderfully left-field about Shigesato Itoi’s RPG.

The world needs saving, and Ness, armed with baseball bats, slingshots and yo-yo’s, is an unlikely hero, but one that can be related to. He eats burgers to regain health, catches colds easily and also gets homesick rather easily. Just like any 13 year old, right?

Such RPG nuances must have felt too much for Nintendo to release into Europe back in 1995. It wasn’t the only RPG to miss the European cut of course. But given it sold less than a million copies Nintendo clearly heeded on the sign of caution with Earthbound.

But for me, and with the progress i have made so far, its those aforementioned nuances that make it stand out. RPG’s don’t get more niche than this. And the SNES Mini gives Earthbound a new home it deserves.

 

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Kirby’s Dream Course

Developer: HAL Laboratory

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 0.59 Million (Unconfirmed)

Kirby’s Dream Course is a Kirby game in the loosest way. In Japan it is entitled Kirby Bowl, which for what is ostensibly a golf sim adds to the identity crisis Dream Course suffers from.

Visually it is akin to the isometric Sonic 3D on the Genesis; bumps, hills and obstacles make up the multiple Dream Land golfing landscapes. And like its visuals, that Kirby style is also successfully transitioned into a golf game.

With just 21 games to place on a SNES tribute console – one already lacking in decent sports titles – why this?! The inclusion of this isometric miniature golf sim is a strange one. Kirby is of course one of Nintendo’s top characters. No doubt redeveloping the once-named Special Tee Shot to represent the world of Kirby will have boosted sales. It’s by no means a bad game by any stretch, it looks and feels a little out of place on the SNES Mini.

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Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Original Sales: 4.10 Million

Capcom’s definitive 16-bit fighter is a true gem of the genre. The twelve most recognisable fighters in the world take each other on in The World Warrior tournament. Your chosen fighter has his/her own reasons, but all want to be the best. Which is what Street Fighter II Turbo is: The best. Some may say it is one of the best fighting games ever made. Even some say the best. But one thing is for certain: it is definitely among the best the SNES has to offer.

Sure, if you were to judge SFII Turbo against the test of time it has been surpassed repeatedly. Mostly at the hands of its own maker, Capcom. But if nothing else it serves as a perfect nostalgia trip. With the SNES Mini ROM running as the US 60Hz version, something that was often but a dream in the PAL regions of yesteryear, plus the added ‘turbo’ adjustable speed, it still serves as one of the purest one-on-one fighters in existence.

As a package however, i would have preferred to see Super Street Fighter II, which is on the Japanese release. It is also a fighter that has been previously made available via eShop. But nonetheless, Street Fighter II Turbo is still up there with the best the SNES has to offer for a fighting fix.

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Super Castlevania IV

Developer: Konami

Publisher: Konami

Original Sales: 0.50 Million (Unconfirmed)

First off, i need to proclaim that I’ve never been on the Super Castlevania IV bandwagon. It is critically acclaimed, but i find it dull, slow and simply annoying to play. Its a series that was yet to find it’s identity until Symphony of the Night 5 years later. But while it’s a title that simply isn’t for me, it does have endearing qualities that have stood the test of time.

Firstly, it is one of the few adult-themed games for the SNES. It’s distinct horror setting captures the doom and gloom in particularly detailed fashion; vines on railings in the background and the haunting shipwreck of stage 2 are still impressive. The use of Mode 7 also adds a level of disorientation to the already-increasing difficulty. The soundtrack is also excellent.

Super Castlevania IV is no pick-up-and-play retro paradise. It ranks among both Super Ghouls & Ghosts and Contra III in terms of difficulty, possibly even a level above that. It will take many a play-through to master the pixel-perfect requirement for both jumping and attacking – 2 of the games most basic and common actions. It’s a deliberately rigid and unforgiving experience that only applies to the hardcore.

 

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Super Punch Out!

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: Unknown

Finally, a sports sim! And yet, not a true one. Like many a NES to SNES sequel, the goal was refinement, not reinvention or revolution. And Super Punch Out! is a perfect example of that.

Your fighter is the average Joe going up against a series of increasingly ridiculous opponents. Each of which requires their pattern or style to be discovered in order to lay some serious smackdown yourself. It’s a simple formula that gets increasingly difficult and ridiculous as it progresses. Beating all four circuits is a bit of a challenge, and once that’s done it’s a case of breaking your own records and honing your timing skills even further.

It may be title that’s a little lost in time by today’s standards but Super Punch Out! is heaps of fun. It’s a shame it isn’t supported by any other sports titles on the SNES Mini, but is a welcome addition nonetheless.

Now we’ve seen what the east is missing, the next (and final) part will look at the Japan-exclusive titles to see what we’re missing out on.

Previous entries: One Two Three Four

 

Super NES Classic Edition Mini – Lowdown on the Games (Part 4)

Join me as i rundown the games for the Super Nes Mini console.

In September 2017 the dreams of retro videogames fans around the world were realised once again. The successor to the sold-out NES Mini, the Super NES Mini, hit stores worldwide. The Super NES Mini will follow the mould of the NES Mini by including 21 of the most classic games the platform has ever produced.

The Locked 16 (13-16):-

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Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Developer: Square

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 2.14 Million

Super Mario RPG is a dream collaboration between 2 giants of the SNES era. Square, kings of the JRPG throughout the SNES’ lifetime, developing Nintendo’s hottest property, Super Mario himself. But this is no typical Mario title; it is a fully-fledged JRPG starring the Mushroom Kingdom’s favourite plumber. It is also another title that got away from Europe during the 90’s.

supermariorpgAt first glance it’s more a case of Super Mario Out-of-His-Comfort-Zone; JRPG turn-based battles, an isometric 3D viewpoint, even full dialogue. It looks and feels more like a subversive dream to begin with. But after just the introduction alone any fears are quickly extinguished. The isometric view allows the Mushroom Kingdom to be given life never seen previously. A world inhabited by Yoshi’s, fish, moles and many other creatures and surroundings. There is tons to discover in such a massive world, but none of it is a chore. Even with Square’s much-maligned random battles interrupting proceedings.

The real charm and appeal comes from the volume of various amusing scenarios, accompanied by cameos and multiple in-jokes throughout. There are many platform-based secrets to find, cleverly incorporating the Mario element into a Square-developed world.

It’s incredible to think Super Mario RPG didn’t get a SNES release in Europe. Then again, it wasn’t the first JRPG to be withheld a release. As a result Super Mario RPG is one of the most anticipated games for the SNES mini. With this amount of creativity and humour added to the plumber-saves-princess formula, it is also one of the best.

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Super Mario World

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 20.61 Million

There isn’t really much left to say about Super Mario World. Given it was a console-bundled title, most if not all SNES players will have at least sampled its greatness.

Super Mario World is often considered the greatest of the 2-dimensional Mario games. But lets be honest, you could pick pretty much any of them as a favourite and all have their justifications. But what is probably most impressive about Super Mario World is that while it was the console’s first ever release, it is as good as game as any released in the SNES’ 13-year lifespan.

super-mario-worldDinosaur Land is a vibrant, colourful continent throughout all of it’s seven worlds. And while Super Mario was 6 years away from venturing into 3D, an extra dimension to the Mario series comes in the form of now-iconic Nintendo character, Yoshi the dinosaur. He can crush enemies Mario cannot, swallow enemies to use against others, even become a platform for Mario to vault to otherwise inaccessible areas.

Regardless of your favourite Super Mario choice, everything about Super Mario World is simply iconic. It may not be the first choice when you power up your SNES Mini, given it has been available on almost every Nintendo platform in years gone by. But it is an essential addition to the collection.

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Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 4.12 Million

With Super Mario World, the introduction of Yoshi added an extra dimension to the Mario series. With this direct sequel, Nintendo added an entirely new dynamic to the series. A dynamic so significant it has gone on to become a spin-off series in its own right. Set as a prequel to the entire Mario series, Yoshi must escort a Baby Mario across 6 worlds in order to save his baby brother Luigi. It may be a Mario game, but Yoshi is now the star of the show.

Yoshi’s Island differs from the traditional Mario series in many ways, despite being just another platformer at its core. The egg ready-aim-fire mechanic is Yoshi’s main source of attacking and collecting. It gives Yoshi his own identity in the Mario ser- sorry, what is now the Yoshi’s Island series.

Super Mario World 2 Yoshis IslandBut it is the visuals that are Yoshi’s Island defining feature. Shigeru Miyamoto, showing his aversion to Donkey Kong Country’s pre-rendered graphics, opted instead for a hand-drawn style that is simply a feast for the eyes. The animation is crisp, fluid, and at times wonderfully fluorescent. Powered by the Super FX2 chip (the sequel), there are effects in both the foreground and background that were not previously possible.

Yoshi’s Island is up there with the most anticipated of the SNES Mini titles. This is the first re-release of the original SNES version. As faithful as the Game Boy Advance remake was, it fell behind somewhat in the sound department. But here the original soundtrack is back in it’s full glory, and serves as the cherry atop a very delicious, satisfying and colourful cake.

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Super Metroid

Developer: Nintendo + Intelligent Systems

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 1.42 Million

Yoshio Sakamoto’s sci-fi exploration platform shooter is one of the finest video games of all time. It is such an atmospheric, adept and amazing experience that unusually appealed more to the western market. Not that I’m complaining.

Super Metroid is the third title in the Metroid series, and follows on directly from the Game Boy’s Metroid II. Samus Aran ventures to Planet Zebes in order to save a kidnapped infant Metroid. Zebes is of course no theme park; it is the base of the Metroid’s kidnappers, the Space Pirates.

7521263c3098e556fa7634b4b4eaecaeThe Metroid formula quickly comes into play. Samus is drained of her robotic suits’ abilities and power. At this point, the open-ended tunnels of Zebes are ripe for exploration. And what a journey it is. The learning curve is attributed to the new abilities and health banks you unlock over time. Like the Legend of Zelda series, certain areas require a certain weapon/ability to progress. But as there are so many extra items to be found throughout, those abilities become essential for entirely different reasons.

For me, this is what makes Super Metroid so special as an adventure; you want to speed through it? It can be done in less than 3 hours. Want to collect everything? It will take a lot longer. Either way, Super Metroid is an essential experience.

You can read part one here, part two here and part three here.

That’s the locked 16 done and dusted. But don’t despair! The next part will cover the Western exclusive SNES Mini titles.

What are your favourite SNES Mini titles so far?

 

Super NES Classic Edition Mini – Lowdown on the Games (Part 3)

Join me as i rundown the games for the Super Nes Mini console.

In September 2017 the dreams of retro videogames fans around the world were realised once again. The successor to the sold-out NES Mini, the Super NES Mini, hit stores worldwide. The Super NES Mini will follow the mould of the NES Mini by including 21 of the most classic games the platform has ever produced.

The Locked 16 (9-12):-

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Star Fox

Developer: Nintendo + Argonaut Software

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 2.99 Million

Shigeru Miyamoto’s science-fiction third/first person rail shooter Star Fox heralded the birth of yet another successful Nintendo franchise.

The Star Fox series is famous for its animal crew of Fox McCloud, Slippy Toad, Perry Hare and Falco Lombardi. They fly together in the distinctively-shaped Arwing spacecraft across various missions to seek out the evil scientist Andross.

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Shooting down/avoiding enemy ships, robots and asteroids of various sizes has lost little of its charm in 24 years. Ok, maybe just a little. The use of the Super FX chip powers up Star Fox to the point of being overworked at times. Polygons wobble frequently and at times the frame rate crawls, which hinders aiming and avoiding oncoming obstacles.

The three map paths-to-completion do their best to very the difficulty whilst avoiding repetitiveness. The bosses get bigger, bolder and more bizarre; from simple spaceships to a two-headed big-bastard dragon. That fires eggs. Yep.

Most will probably devour the first stage at speed to unlock the previously-unreleased Star Fox 2, which is arguably the biggest draw for the console. More on that later, but Star Fox is still very much an enjoyable, if a little jerky, space adventure.

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Star Fox 2

Developer: Nintendo + Argonaut Software

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: N/A

It’s incredible to believe that a new SNES title has been released in 2017. Star Fox 2, originally intended for a SNES release but ultimately cancelled, is a sequel 25 years in the making.

Fox McCloud and the crew are back, along with some new friends, of which 2 make your pilot/wing-man team. Star Fox 2’s looks instantly familiar once the action starts, but the mission blueprint is of a different nature to the original. Andross is back, but instead of seeking him out on his home planet, he’s coming after Corneria. Your 2-man crew navigate a map screen with enemies moving as you move. Should your paths cross, for example an enemy ship, a battle is initiated. If you allow Corneria to amass 100% damage, it’s game over. If both your team members succumb to becoming space fodder, it’s game over. There are no extra lives here. It’s an inventive structure that expands on the linearity of the original.

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The cross-heir view from the originals’ asteroid levels require urgency but a little patience, given the sections get a little jerky at times. The more infiltration-driven missions transform your ship into what can only be described as a robotic chicken of sorts. These walker sections require the use of floor switches to obtain items and unlock the next area. Unfortunately they are also very thin in the challenge department.

Which leads to Star Fox 2’s biggest problem; it’s over almost as soon as it’s begun. It takes little over an hour to complete, with the only incentive to return being to try and improve on your completion grade. What Star Fox 2 lacks in challenge and intuitiveness is however made up a little by the fact you’re playing a modern piece of nostalgia. Yes that is very much a cliche, but i don’t care.

Star Fox 2 unleashed my inner child from start to finish. It may be a case of what might have been, but Star Fox 2 deserves the lease of life the SNES Mini has given it. Just don’t expect to be racking up more hours compared to other SNES Mini titles.

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Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 1.1 Million

So. Damn. Hard. If you asked me for 3 words to describe Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, they are all i could muster. Dark Souls is admired for its challenging and unforgiving nature, and the same can be said for this Capcom classic.

If you’ve never played Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts before, i wouldn’t make it your first port of call once your SNES Mini is powered on. It is an incredibly challenging platformer that features re-spawning enemies, requires pixel-perfect reactions and a lot of patience and practice. Particularly with the double-jump mechanism; once you’re in the air all manner of control has gone until you land. And even then it’s probably into more trouble.

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It may seem crazy to list all the negatives from the get-go, but these simply serve as a warning. It may require utmost precision, but it also rewards it; the scenery and levels look and feel fantastic. From blizzards to lava-filled caves, castles to pirate ships, all levels of spooky are covered. It certainly trumps fellow SNES Mini horror-platformer Castlevania IV in my book. It’s also incredible to think that as a 12/13 year old i was able to finish Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts without the aid of save states or battery back up.

Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is the most chilling and atmospheric 16-bit platform adventure ever. It is insanely challenging, but in being so it also gives it even more charm. It has been a pleasure to be re-acquainted.

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Super Mario Kart

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 8.76 Million

Despite Mario Kart 8 technically being the most balanced and best Mario Kart, the original SNES classic will always be my favourite. It was the first video game i ever bought with my own money at the tender age of 11.

That may well be an unrealistically biased and nostalgic view, but there is no doubting the very first Mario Kart gives all its successors a run for their money.

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The fast yet compact tracks, powered by the Mode 7 scrolling graphics engine, are full of twists, turns and diverse Mario-themed terrain. Different skills on different tracks herald the best records and rewards; hop-and-drift mastery gets you through the Donut Plains, stepping off the gas to navigate the many right-angles of the Bowser Castles and Ghost Houses, and so on.

It’s no surprise that tracks from Super Mario Kart have been recreated in it’s successors. Donut Plains in MK8 fits the drift narrative perfectly, and an MK8 version of the original Rainbow Road is also a fitting tribute.

And seeing as the SNES Mini is a fitting tribute to the platform itself, for it to not include Super Mario Kart would be a crime. And there’s not a blue shell to be seen.

You can read part one here and part two here.

12 down, 9 to go! Are you excited yet? You should be! Catch you next time!

 

Super NES Classic Edition Mini – Lowdown on the Games (Part 2)

Join me as i rundown the games for the highly anticipated Super Nes Mini.

In September 2017 the dreams of retro videogames fans around the world were realised once again. The successor to the sold-out NES Mini, the Super NES Mini, hit stores worldwide. The Super NES Mini will follow the mould of the NES Mini by including 21 of the most classic games the platform has ever produced.

You can read part one here. If those titles weren’t enough to whet the retro appetite, wait until you see what’s in store with the next 4 games. I’ve invested hour upon hour into this particular set in the last 20+ years. Like most of the titles included in the SNES Mini, they cemented my interest in video games as a medium for life.

The Locked 16 (5-8):-

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Kirby Super Star

Developer: HAL Laboratory

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 1.4 Million

The SNES Mini may include 21 games for a fixed price, but Kirby Super Star offers a surprise right off the bat. 1 title, 8 games! Okay so they’re all a little on the slender side, but Kirby Super Star is a title bursting with variety.

Kirby’s core ‘copy’ ability, allowing him to mimic abilities of those he ingests, is also the core theme each game is constructed around. This could mean Kirby wielding a sword, a laser cannon, or maybe even singing enemies to death. The most recognisable is Spring Breeze; essentially a SNES version of the original Game Boy Kirby’s Dream Land, albeit somewhat simplified.

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Other delights include Gourmet Race, where Kirby and King Dedede race across 3 levels whilst devouring as much food as possible, and The Arena, a gauntlet-style boss fight mode. The meatiest portion of this Kirby all-you-can-eat buffet is Milky-Way Wishes. Kirby must traverse over 9 planets in the same vein as any regular Kirby title, but with 1 subtle difference; Kirby can no longer obtain abilities from ingested enemies, Instead, you collect ability-laden items, much like the Super Mario series.

Each slice of this Kirby pizza pie has it’s own unique and fun topping. Some may be more filling than others, but there is something for everyone in this great package.

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The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 4.6 Million

What is there left to be said for what is simply one of the best games of all time? It is simply a remarkably profound experience from start to finish. What’s even more remarkable is that it is still a brilliant game, more than 20 years on.

A Link to the Past has been re-released, remastered, and most important of all, replayed so many times. Ocarina of Time is the Zelda entry that has dominated so many best-games-ever lists. The sublime Breath of the Wild is sure to carry on that mantle for the next few years. But this 16-bit predecessor is still significant to this day. It’s nowhere near the biggest interpretation of Hyrule but it is still very big. Factor in teleportation to-and-from a Ganon-corrupted mirror image of Hyrule and it doubles in size and difficulty.

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The layered labyrinth-style dungeons, the vast array of tools and weapons, finding heart pieces. Yes all these are series stables to this day, but A Link to the Past is still capable of ingenious surprises; thieves in the woods after your stuff, bunny transformations (yes, really) and of course, the amazing Hookshot.

A Link to the Past is always a journey worth revisiting. It was one of my very first SNES experiences as a teenager, and often revisit on a semi-regular basis. Come September 29th, I intend to visit the world of Hyrule all over again. I recommend you do to.

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Mega Man X

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 1.1 Million

There’s an impression left by the Mega Man series that screams “they’re all just the same”. In the case of Mega Man 1-6 that is evident, with Mega Man 2 being the standout exception. Screenshots of the series’ upgrade to the SNES does little to suggest more of the same. Thankfully Mega Man X is anything but.

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The ‘X’ is not just a fancy spin off name (i’m looking at you Apple), but the birth of both a new character AND series. Dr Light’s supreme invention no longer has to rely on the abilities of defeated bosses; upgrades such as dashing and superior armour are also acquired throughout. At it’s core it is of course a Mega Man game. But these new dynamics, accompanied by excellent level design and freedom to tackle them how you want makes for the ultimate Mega Man experience. Plus it’s still pretty mutha-truckin’ hard to boot.

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Secret of Mana

Developer: Square

Publisher: Square

Original Sales: 1.8 Million

Ooh boy. Secret of Mana is a beast of an RPG. The premise is fairly simple; boy finds legendary sword, and is immediately tasked with saving the world. In between is an action RPG that hits all the right notes. It also provides a rare multiplayer experience for the genre, with up to 3 players on screen at once.

Secret of Mana’s initial moments play out in a similar vein to A Link to the Past. Once the first series of battles commence, Mana cements itself as an RPG with it’s intuitive menu system. This ‘ring menu’ system results in quick command prompts to use spells/items, with little intrusion on battles. All characters move freely during battle, a la Zelda, but weapon attacks require a brief pause to recharge to ensure a hit and more damage. This brilliant blend of real-time and turn-based combat makes for often-exhilarating boss battles.

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Memorable melodies of Mana soon become ingrained in the mind thanks to one of the greatest soundtracks of it’s kind. And like Zelda, Mana makes use of the SNES’ patented Mode 7 effects for the overworld map, with Mana’s world made up of several islands as opposed to Zelda’s solitary land with multiple landmarks. In the later stages the back and forth travelling can get a little confusing. Particularly when you step away for while and jump back in……yes, i am currently lost in my most recent play-through and haven’t the patience to get back on track.

But despite my lack of bearings and memory, Secret of Mana is a hugely enjoyable and engrossing RPG. Its many hours of combat, collecting, travelling and storytelling are one of the SNES’ most cherished experiences.

8 down, 12 to go! Are you excited yet? You should be! Catch you next time!

 

Super NES Classic Edition Mini – Lowdown on the Games (Part 1)

Join me as i rundown the games for the Super Nes Mini console.

In September 2017 the dreams of retro videogames fans around the world were realised once again. The successor to the sold-out NES Mini, the Super NES Mini, hit stores worldwide. The Super NES Mini will follow the mould of the NES Mini by including 21 of the most classic games the platform has ever produced.

16 of the 21 titles are locked-in for all 3 regions of release (Europe, USA, Japan), with the remaining 5 differing slightly for the Japanese release. Regardless of their quality (I’ll get to that), what is consistent with all the titles is they are all more than 20 years old. Many younger gamers may have never sampled any of these classics, or possibly never even heard of them. In the case of the latter I’ll just assume you’ve been living under a rock or something.

BUT! The Super NES Mini should be the perfect way to address both these predicaments. So please join me as I give the lowdown on every game for each region.

The Locked 16 (1-4):-

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Contra III: The Alien Wars

Developer: Konami

Publisher: Konami

Original Sales: Less than 1 Million

Konami’s superlative platform-shooter was one of the first games released on the SNES. Thanks to the upgrade in technology the SNES provided, this edition of Contra radically improved the NES classics; climbing walls/ladders, hanging from bars/walls whilst shooting, even commandeering tanks. The SNES’ Mode 7 chip also assisted in creating alternate levels with a top-down-view. These utilised the new shoulder buttons of the SNES control pad to turn your character 360 degrees.

gfs_29082_2_19Long-time fans will note that in Europe the series is no longer visualised as futuristic robots. In the 1990’s the series was repackaged as Probotector; presumably changed to appear less violent for the European audience. Enemies were also robotic, not human. That is until the Wii U Virtual Console ported the US version in 2014.

Regardless of the lick of paint, the action is non-stop and as break-neck as it is neck-breaking in difficulty. At times, anyway. While it may have a steep learning curve Contra III is super fun, particularly when teaming up with a friend.

We’re one title down and it is a worthy one.

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Donkey Kong Country

Developer: Rare

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 9.3 Million

Donkey Kong Country was the game to launch Rare as one of Nintendo’s top developers back in 1994. It is still the best alternative platform series to Super Mario across all Nintendo’s consoles. Nay on all consoles. Come at me.

The visuals were ground-breaking of the time. Rare visited Twycross Zoo to study and record the movement of Gorillas. This ultimately led to the brilliant 3D rendered graphics of not just Donkey Kong, but a family of Kongs. Most notable of these new characters was Diddy Kong, Donkey’s playable companion and eventual series successor. Diddy went onto be the star of the 2 sequels that followed, but didn’t make the cut here, although arguably better games.

donkey-kong-at-20-years-old-442-body-image-1417529242Like Super Mario World, DKC uses various world maps to navigate multiple stages within each. Each world portrays basic themes such as forestry, ice, or underground mines. The action is side scrolling, so nothing new when compared to Super Mario World, but the rendered graphics give it a unique character.

DKC was also the beginning of another massive Nintendo franchise. The afore mentioned 2 SNES sequels were accompanied by the wonderfully challenging Game Boy Donkey Kong Land series. Even Diddy Kong Racing, a Rare-developed Nintendo 64 racing game became the biggest rival to the Mario Kart series for a time.

Donkey Kong Country was one of the SNES’ most important titles ever back in 1994. While it is considered frustrating for some, over 20 years on, it is no less frustrating than Retro Studios’ more recent efforts. It still deserves to be revisited and re-appraised.

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Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan)

Developer: Square

Publisher: Square

Original Sales: 3.4 Million

One of the historic frustrations of a European SNES gamer was seeing critically acclaimed titles not even seeing a release. It took 16 years of salivation for the SNES version of Chrono Trigger to finally get a release on Nintendo’s Wii Shop Channel. It was even longer for this Hironobu Sakaguchi-produced masterpiece. The huge success of the Playstation 1 epic Final Fantasy VII paved the way for a PS1 release in 2002. This incorporated full motion video scenes to appeal in the next generation of video games.

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This version however is the original classic. It is often regarded as the greatest Final Fantasy game ever, and is definitely up there with the best the SNES had to offer. The traditional overworld/dungeon/town maps, menu-based combat and active time battle are in full flow here. These became trademarks for the western onslaught of Final Fantasy titles, names VI to X.

Final Fantasy VI is the SNES Mini title I’m looking forward to the most. Having only sampled the PS1 version, this could be worth the asking price alone.

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F-Zero

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Original Sales: 2.85 Million

Nintendo’s futuristic racer is modern motor racing mayhem set in the 26th century. Back at its original 1990 release, it also happened to serve as the perfect showcase of the SNES’ technical capabilities. The frantic twists and turns of 15 tracks that roll out like carpet; seamlessly so thanks to the smoothness and rotation of the SNES’ Mode 7 technology. In terms of sheer pace there are still very few videogames like it.

Over the years however its limitations have started to surface. At best you fly (ok, hover) through an exhilarating array of tracks. At worst, you bounce repeatedly off the track walls until your choice of just 4 cars crash into flames. Generally the experience meets somewhere in the middle, depending on your level of reaction/tolerance. I can only imagine it’s a vision of the future that car insurance companies can only dream of.

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F-Zero’s lean content can make it feel and look little more than a supercharged tech demo – but it is one hell of a ride while it lasts. Practice gives F-Zero’s perils of power racing only a marginally easier perspective; even the most talented driver (especially on the ‘master’ setting) will find themselves bouncing like popcorn in a microwave.

Nevertheless, F-Zero is an iconic SNES title. Back at the SNES’ Japan launch, F-Zero was one of only two games available. Plus it really is one of the SNES’ best showcases of its capabilities. It served as an example to its competitors that the SNES meant business. And of course, the fact the Super-Nes Mini is even a thing in the first place, proves Nintendo right.

So that’s the first 4 titles covered. Are you looking forward to any/all of these?

 

Super Metroid – The Perfect Video Game?

That’s the ultimate goal isn’t it? To create the perfect video game. Very few video games are considered as such, and even then it is of course only opinion. There is no fact in a critic’s verdict, whether it’s print/online. People often forget that, and it is of course the same for you; we’re all critics after all. But there is the matter of consistency to take into account, which is where one of my ‘perfect’ game choices gets a unanimously positive critique/public view: Super Metroid. For those that have played through Yoshio Sakamoto’s action/sci-fi magnum opus, I may be wasting my words on you; but I’m confident you’ll read on to either nod/shake your head at this ‘critic’.

supermetroidSuper Metroid is as perfect as a video game can be. With its super sci-fi intro, a dark atmospheric tone is set from the get-go. This never dissipates but, even more impressively, increases or decreases depending on the location/situation. The elevator ride down to Ridley’s lair is a prime example; I don’t think a 16-bit videogame had ever given me goosebumps before. The crisp, fluent visuals complement the soundtrack perfectly, and of course vice versa, the soundtrack often giving the perfect nod of anticipation for the next section. A great example of this is the descent into Brinstar; it fades in superbly, and sets the tone for the action packed section up ahead.

Then there is the learning curve; which is seamless in its execution. It’s no different to previous games in the series in that you start with a simple blaster, but the aforementioned visuals and power of the SNES not only leaves enough subtle hints, but also develops the mind-set that success is dependent upon. Add to that the perfect pacing, an average play through of roughly 10 hours first time around, which might not sound like much, but like many a Nintendo classic, it’s highly likely you’ll return for at least a second run through. Add icing to the cake in the form of one of the best and most memorable video game endings ever, and you have an instant classic.

Now I’m sure you’ve heard all this before, in some form or another. But I believe Super Metroid is not a perfect video game just for its vision, production and execution, but more than that. Back in 1994 when it was originally released, I was 13 years old. Video Games were already a big part of my life, and had been for 8 years, and games such as Super Metroid only served as a positive aid to my lateral thinking, evaluation, puzzle solving, and general acumen.

Over 20 years on, it not only stands the test of time, but has indeed got better with age. Super Metroid is not just technically brilliant, but still technically brilliant, even to this day. And with the beauty of virtual console, it is already being passed on to further generations. That, for me, is perfection.

My 52 Game Challenge of 2014

2014 was a great year for gaming. Particularly for me, as I decided to undertake the ultimate lonely gamer task: complete 52 games in a calendar year. That works out at just shy of 4.5 games a month. Ouch.

Now I’m typically a gamer who starts many games, but takes forever to finish them. Save points are often my weak point in that I often to decide to call it quits once I reach one. Note to RPG makers: NO MORE SAVE POINTS, autosave all the way please.

Anyway, although late one, I completed the challenge. A simple feat for a lonely gamer such as myself, if I’d not started it in June! Yes, that’s 52 games completed in 6 months. And here they are:-

Xbox Live Arcade:-

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Streets of Rage 2

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade

Streets of Rage 3

TMNT: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled

Street Fighter III Third Strike

Final Fight

X-Men

Sonic Adventure 2

The Walking Dead Season 2

King of Fighters ’98

 

Xbox 360:-

Lego Batman 2

PES 2015 (Champions League)

 

PSN – Duck Tales Remastered

 

3DS:-

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Sega 3D Classics: Sonic The Hedgehog

Sega 3D Classics: Shinobi III

Kirby Triple Deluxe

Fantasy Life

Super Mario 3D Land

 

Wii U:-

Super Mario 3D World

Mario Kart 8 (Special Cup)

Bayonetta 2

 

Wii – Kirby’s Epic Yarn

 

Gamecube – Capcom Vs. SNK 2

 

Nintendo 64 – Lylat Wars

 

Gameboy:-

TMNT: Fall of the Foot Clan

Kirby’s Dream Land

Super Mario Land

Super Mario Bros Deluxe

Donkey Kong Land

 

SNES:-

TMNT: Turtles in Time

Mickey’s Magical Quest

Final Fight 2

Excitebike: Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium

The Great Circus Mystery Starring Mick and Minnie Mouse

Aladdin

Super Castlevania IV

Street Fighter Alpha 2

Castlevania: Dracula X

Starwing

Donkey Kong Country

 

Mega Drive/Genesis – TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist

 

Master System – Sonic The Hedgehog

 

NES:-

TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project

Castlevania

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

Where’s Waldo?

Super Mario Bros 2

Duck Tales 2

 

Turbografix – Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

 

Arcade – Sunset Riders

 

Particular highlights from this list have been many, but the standouts are Kirby’s Epic Yarn, A Link Between Worlds, 3D World, Fantasy Life and Bayonetta 2. LOVE THAT GAME. Not many particularly lengthy titles I know, with Fantasy Life probably the longest, but there were some tough cookies, the standout being Castlevania’s III and Dracula X. But that was the beauty of the challenge; it drove me on to finish even those difficult titles, in order to move onto the next one.

I shall once again be undertaking the challenge in 2015, in fact, if I get to 52 in 6 months again, I may well go for ANOTHER 52! I shall keep you all updated on here, plus I shall Instagram and Tweet each game as I finish them.

How about you, are you up for the challenge?

The Untouchable Music of Nintendo Games

Warning: minor spoilers

When it comes to Nintendo, one word springs to mind: Quality. Quality games, quality production, quality entertainment. And of late, of which Nintendo’s recent games have undoubtedly proven, they are now unparalleled in another aspect that has as much fierce competition than ever before: the soundtracks.

Below are my 5 picks of the past 18 months of Nintendo soundtrack picks that are a must for any MP3 player.

 

Kirby Triple Deluxe (3DS) – Map Screen

Triple Deluxe is the latest Kirby outing, and is a wonderful successor to Kirby’s Adventure on the Wii from a couple of years back. The map screen track is of course an ode to the original Kirby’s Dream Land’s first level from Kirby’s first ever outing. It has never sounded so good.

 

Nintendoland (Wii U) – Introduction

Wii U’s primary launch titles’ whole premise of a mini game world unfortunately only really manages to expose its one major flaw – it is fun in very limited quantities. It does however sport one of the standout tracks on the platform to date in its introduction tune; a subtle hint of chip tune perfectly blended with a catchy piano number. This was my ringtone for quite a few months.

 

Super Mario 3D World – Bowser World

Just when you think it’s over, Nintendo pulls out another massive world to conquer in quite possibly the greatest Mario adventure of all time. Bowser World’s theme is catchy, almost infectious, and often pops up in my head even days after last hearing it.

 

Mario Kart 8 – Raindow Road N64

Needs little explanation. Simply the ultimate rendition of one of the Mario Kart series’ most memorable songs

 

Link Between Worlds – Lorule Theme

Nintendo’s recent masterpiece features not only the original Link to the Past’s world with a new generation of graphics, but also featured oh so many blissful renditions of LttP’s legendary soundtrack – and made them even more memorable. The Lorule theme (the dark world in LttP) is certainly the most memorable and catchy. Not only the best game on 3DS, but also the best soundtrack to date.

So there are my picks. Of course, music being wonderfully subjective as it is, I’m sure you have your own preferences. Please share within the comments or on Twitter/Facebook with your own picks.