Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble

That wish to be bigger and to stand out is certainly the hidden theme of Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble. It is easy to understand why, back in 1996, the game was seen as a drop following two titles that left big marks in the minds of gamers all around the world. Hindsight, however, reveals an adventure that although not as excellent as that of Donkey Kong Country 2, for it boasts a lesser – yet excellent – soundtrack and fails to reach the same level-design excellence, shines pretty brightly in the hall of the best platformers of its generation. By understanding that its prequel did not leave much room for improvement, it spends a big amount of its running time trying to find ways to excel, and it comes out of it with an impressive overworld, a fantastic challenge, and a stunning collection of inventive stages that use all tools the franchise had established in magnificent and original ways. As a result, even if the timing of its release may have harmed it, the years that have passed ever since have allowed Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble to emerge as a giant of the platforming genre.

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Donkey Kong Country

That does not, obviously, mean Donkey Kong Country is a bad game. It is, actually, a major finding; a discovery of a universe of gameplay possibilities that, before it, simply did not exist. It transformed Donkey Kong from a usually mindless villain into a hero of his own vast and rich world, and it constructed an adventure that ranks among the Super Nintendo’s best platformers. The fact it comes out rather bruised from a comparison to all its sequels speaks more about their stunning quality than about Donkey Kong Country itself. Its gameplay has been improved; its visuals have been taken to higher heights; and its soundtrack, of very unique instrumentation and tone, has inspired much better ones. However, its birth paved the way to a historic franchise that is an integral part of the gaming vocabulary, and the resulting adventure is – by all means – still a fantastic and enjoyable gameplay experience, even if other Donkey Kong Country games end up amounting to packages that are more complete, well-balanced, and creative. It is, after all, only natural, because they have all had a pretty spectacular base upon which to build; and it was here that those original pillars were put in place.

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Kirby Super Star

In a chain of games that has spanned some decades, gone through many consoles, and birthed a horde of installments, no effort has captured that jubilant carefree feeling as well as Kirby Super Star, originally released for the Super Nintendo. And it is somewhat easy to see why. While most of the pink puffball’s titles center around one predetermined plot, hence giving them a serious stiff structural form that is similar to that of other platformers, Kirby Super Star is absurdly loose. It feels like a party; a celebration of Kirby’s sheer glory, one that was planned and created as an opportunity for him to display his ridiculously overpowered strength in whatever way he sees fit. Surely, the game is not aimless: it has purpose. There are, actually, quite a few of those and players are bound to be delighted by most, if not all, of them. Yet, amidst saving Dream Land’s produce or trying to punch the ground so hard Planet Popstar – his home – almost cracks in half, the final objective of it all seems to be giving Kirby a chance to show off; and the result is quite beautiful.

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The Legend Of Zelda: Oracle Of Seasons

Similarly to its counterpart, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons is a considerable step-up for the franchise’s handheld line of games following the impressive Link’s Awakening. And that is because even though it is built over the same framework as that game, which proved without a drop of doubt that the adventures of the hero in green could work in a smaller scale, it is not merely satisfied with achieving greatness through similar means. As such, it chooses to evolve and take risks by bringing puzzle-solving into its overworld via a remarkable mechanic that allows Link to control the seasons; by exploring new items that are smartly used in the creation of refreshing challenges; and by giving its impressively designed dungeons an action-focused touch in filling them up with rooms where killing enemies and avoiding traps work as the main course. And those pieces come together to form a unique and charming quest that still stands as one of the series’ strongest outings.

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The Legend Of Zelda: Oracle Of Ages

Perhaps understanding the stellar quality of the 2-D efforts that came before it, Oracle of Ages is – therefore – not satisfied with being just another The Legend of Zelda game that uses a top-down perspective to give players a glimpse into its world. Given that Link’s Awakening had already solidly proved that adventures as big as those of the hero in green could work on a handheld system, it is clear that Oracle of Ages sets out to expand upon that game’s achievements. And it does so marvelously well not only by utilizing its time-traveling mechanics to bring puzzle-solving out of the dungeons and into the overworld, but also by magnifying the testing nature of its mazes in shifting the focus of individual rooms from combats and switch-pressing to riddles of a more demanding nature. And through marrying this inclination for puzzles with the joy of exploring the colorful world of Labrynna and the pleasure of meeting the many amusing characters that are involved in its time-related conundrums, the greatness of Oracle of Ages is fully realized.

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The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Link’s Awakening has eight dungeons, a great overworld, an amusing tone that fits its simplicity like a glove, a plot that can be mysterious and touching, and a good amount of extra content. Therefore, it is unquestionably a worthy portable reproduction – one that cannot be missed – of The Legend of Zelda experience found on consoles. And it achieves such while sporting visuals and music that, easily ranking among the system’s best, are worthy of the franchise. In fact, Link’s Awakening is so impressive in its handling of the constraints of the system it was made for that the hardware limitations of the Game Boy are hardly felt at all. However, despite the resounding and undeniable conquest of marking the first time ever a Nintendo franchise was effectively and greatly translated to a handheld, Link’s Awakening fails to reach the same stature of the saga’s most remarkable installments for the simple reason that it lacks a truly defining trait.

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Undertale

Undertale is so outlandish that it is sometimes a bit hard to explain what it does; and it is able to pack loveliness, dread, and oddity together so neatly that it is occasionally tough to understand how it makes it. Nevertheless, if one were forced to point out what it is exactly that causes it to be so fantastic and original, it would be reasonable to single out its unrestrained wackiness and how it leaks into every area of the title; its incredible battle system, which doubles as a text-based puzzle and an action-packed mini-game of avoiding projectiles; the extent and quality of its script; and the way it takes advantages of players’ choices to build three adventures that are very distinct and that beg for multiple playthroughs. Undertale is a one-man achievement, and although its visuals do show that it was built under restricted circumstances, nothing else about it indicates that was the case, especially the density of its textual content and the abundance of ideas it sports. However, the game’s status a sole endeavor ends up making a lot of sense, because it takes a special kind of liberty – one only found in lonely journeys – for a product to be so authorial, artistically free, and consistent in its beautiful absence of consistency.

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Chrono Trigger

Both in the grand scheme of things and in the little details of its design, Chrono Trigger is an immaculate gaming experience. The quality of its plot and the way through which Square is able to materialize a complex web of alternate timelines, distinct eras with their own interconnected tales, and fate-altering actions into a story that is engaging, funny, emotional, and easy-to-follow is without parallel. And that achievement is coupled with more than thirty hours of content that is stunningly designed on all fronts, from effective visuals and a touching soundtrack, to an exciting battle system, and an effective approach to traveling long distances through space and time. Combined, these parts amount to a quest that exhales so much grandeur that it writes itself into the definition of the word epic, a term that may have been debased by how frequently it is employed, but that is the perfect adjective to define Chrono Trigger. After all, no other expression could describe an adventure that unfolds so perfectly across millions of years, that unites great characters from distinct eras, and that includes five time periods (each with its own mysteries), unforgettable moments, and challenges. Chrono Trigger is the bar against which all other games that strive to be epic should be measured.

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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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