Owlboy

Thanks to that emotional synergy between visuals, music, and writing, Owlboy tells its tale in a way that leaves robust marks. In spite of how it knows very well how to balance story and gameplay, with the latter being punctuated by the former rather than being squeezed by it, it is impossible not to walk away from the adventure of Otus and his friends without feeling that its plot overpowers everything else about it. To a point, it is true that such an impression is related to how its level design and mechanics are solid but never truly amazing. However, the fact is that the writing and character development of Owlboy are so spectacularly done, and its story of overcoming failure, ostracism, and one’s own limitations is so moving, that it is only natural all other components that make up the game’s fabric end up playing second fiddle to Otus and his arch. Certainly, it is not the first time the tale of an outcast that is looked down on by almost everyone else is told; however, in Owlboy, the learning through defeat and alongside friends is so vivid, the feelings experienced by its starring character are so visible, and the telling of that journey through gameplay is so nicely implemented, that the magnitude of its impact seems to exist in a scale of its own.

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Iconoclasts

In spite of how those issues are not numerous, it is easy to see why they hold Iconoclasts back from sheer excellence; after all, they act against two central aspects of its fabric: the exploration and the storytelling. Even with those problems in mind, though, the game stands out as one of the best indie efforts on the Nintendo Switch, as it succeeds in balancing a look, vibe, and controls that pay homage to classic action-centered sidescrollers of the 16-bit era with non-linear level design and smart puzzles. More importantly, it does so while developing a thick plot that, although not entirely clear, leaves behind not only an unforgettable cast of characters made up of flawed heroes and plausible villains, but also resounding proof that heavy topics and powerful scenes can be just as finely reproduced via colorful pixel art as they are by more realistic shades. In the end, Iconoclasts may not be a victory that comes without any caveats, but it is an achievement whose scratches, bruises, bloody wounds, and heart speak a whole lot about the tortuous process of its creation and the messy beautiful world it portrays.

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Earthbound

By setting its quest in the modern world and by approaching its universe with the total recklessness of a toddler, the game uncovers an impressive array of uncanny gameplay scenarios of unique tone, outlandish theme, and often unbelievable happenings. It is frequently surrealistic, it is always subversive, it is sometimes incomprehensible, it is occasionally hilarious, it is underlined by a very solid battle system, and it is carried by a story that holds far more feelings than it seems to. Earthbound may not be its generation’s most technically impressive RPG, and it is certainly not the best one there is when dissected into individual parts. However, sometimes heart, soul, humor, creativity, bold intentions, and disregard for expectations outweigh all the rest. And Earthbound has those to spare.

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Super Mario Sunshine

As such, although Super Mario Sunshine is most of the times an excellent display of platforming greatness both in its open worlds and in its linear portions, it presents a few rough edges that can make it more frustrating than it should have been. Its controls, its camera (though not perfect), and the variety of its objectives show greater maturity in relation to Super Mario 64, but – at the same time – the excess of direction that its episodes possess takes away much of the joy that comes with the unexpected discoveries of unguided exploration. Nevertheless, the game is undeniably fun, often inventive, very challenging to those who want to fully complete it, and quite welcoming to anyone who just wishes to get to its end. Alongside those qualities, its brightest spot may be how even though it drinks heavily from Super Mario 64 in terms of structure, it is able to give its adventure a completely unique tone and feel within the franchise’s canon due to its great relaxed setting and F.L.U.D.D., its key gameplay component. Because of that, it is a must-play for absolutely everyone, as the well-designed experience found here cannot be had anywhere else.

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Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link

The Adventure of Link is a game with some good intentions, as it actively tries to correct some of the faults of its predecessor while attempting to – and to a point succeeding in – taking the franchise to grounds that considerably expand its gameplay. It is, however, a pretty big shame that its heart is so thoroughly corroded by a myriad of design problems that at times act against the joy of exploration that is such an integral part of the series and that, in other occasions, make frustration emerge from every single corner. Those used to the brutal difficulty featured in many titles of the NES era may be able to see through the fog and catch a glimpse of value in Link’s second quest. Everyone else, though, will be tremendously disappointed by what they find. And given Nintendo itself has opted not to revisit some of the good ideas carried by the game, which in turn transformed it into a major oddity within the saga, following suit and staying away from it might indeed be the wisest choice.

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The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past

In the few areas in which it falls short from sheer excellence, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past may have been improved upon by some of the installments that would follow it. Everywhere else, though, it is extremely hard to find an entry in the saga that is more well-rounded, has a better pace, and presents such a dazzling – and utterly flawless – balance between complete freedom and sensible guidance. A Link to the Past, after two irregular games that did not achieve everything they intended to, was the title that defined the franchise’s gameplay as the world would come to know it and, in turn, transformed it into one of gaming’s greatest properties. Yet, with its strengths in mind, it is easy to see its relevance and quality are not purely related to that fact. On the contrary, it is a game that must be thoroughly experienced by all players, because much of what it does is so utterly remarkable that Nintendo itself has been unable to consistently top it or even replicate it.

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Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

Born during a generation when linear progression among tridimensional platformers was rare, Crash N. Sane Trilogy arrives to discover a market where its gameplay style is now in vogue. And, as a consequence of its irregularity, if gamers want to experience adventures that have an old-school obstacle-clearing nature inside 3-D scenarios, there are certainly a good number of far better options than the three games included in the package. That, however, does not mean this remastered trilogy amounts to a bad purchase. Whether one has nostalgic memories tied to the character’s Playstation titles or has only heard of the energetic marsupial and the mark he left in the gaming lives of those who grew up with the system, there is – to different degrees, obviously – enjoyment to be found here. The original Crash Bandicoot reveals itself to be a rather problematic effort, one that is more anger-inducing than it is fun, but Cortex Strikes Back and Warped are solid platformers with a lot of charm and content. Their age may occasionally jump forward, but classic platforming, when done right, has a gripping nature that is hard to erode, and in Crash N. Sane Trilogy it is still pretty vivid, even if it is at times clouded by a few issues.

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Mario Tennis Aces

With a good deal of extra care, Mario Tennis Aces could have easily been the best entry in the franchise’s history. Unfortunately, it is considerably held back by the fact many of its offline modes suffer from issues that are so primary one has to wonder how it was possible for a company as big and quality-focused as Nintendo to overlook them. Therefore, while the gameplay itself is stellar, presenting a perfect mixture of solid basics of the sport that are implemented in simple ways and absurd quirks that add a whole lot of excitement, splendor, and strategy to this world of rackets and courts, the content that surrounds it is, at best, problematic. As such, the recommendation of Mario Tennis Aces comes with massive caveats. If one is willing to jump into the game’s online mode and soak in all of the thrill and brutality of those courts, or if one wants to enjoy a great – though limited – multiplayer sessions beside great friends, the game has quite a bit to offer despite its hard-to-ignore faults. If one, on the other hand, is looking for a meaty single-player experience that brings equal levels of challenge, value, and enjoyment, Mario Tennis Aces will not satisfy.

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Hollow Knight

Balanced against so much outstanding quality, though, it is easy to see how minimal – not to say completely negligible – those problems are. Hollow Knight blasts by them, and it constructs an adventure of all-time greatness. By giving its starring knight a set of skills that is absolutely common and presenting a progression that is not too different from that of other classic Metroidvania titles, it muscles its way towards excellence by achieving unforeseen performance in other areas. The size of its world is stunning; the level of freedom players have at any point in the game is mesmerizing; the tsunami of content, both mandatory and extra, it carries is flooring; the design of its levels – which have a fine-tuned balance between platforming, environmental puzzles, and exploration – is masterful; the optional challenges that protect its most valuable collectibles are as brutal as they are fun; and the way it completely puts all elements of its exploration into the hands of players (including figuring out where to go, opening shortcuts, and putting effort into mapping the terrain) is daring. All of those pieces come together to form, in the depths of the gorgeous haunting Hallownest, a quest that gloriously walks through the halls of gaming history that are reserved for the industry’s finest productions ever.

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Super Mario Kart

And, in a way, that statement nicely sums up playing Super Mario Kart from a modern perspective. It is clear the franchise has greatly and naturally advanced since its first installment: graphics have become better, songs and scenery have become more varied, races have included more competitors, tracks have grown to outstandingly insane levels of design, and the experience has become more polished. However, Super Mario Kart – as the game of the series that is truest to kart racing itself, thanks to its simplicity – packs an exciting challenge of a kind that cannot be found in any of the other installments. Surely, Super Mario Kart will not blow the minds of those who have gone through more recent entries of the series; yet, the game will likely be able to entertain and make one look rather fondly to the franchise’s very well-designed beginning.

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