Advance Wars: Dual Strike

As part of the sole Nintendo property that offers a take on the strategy genre at its purest state, Advance Wars: Dual Strike is proof that it is possible to work within traditions while also expanding boundaries, even if ever so slightly. The difficulty eventually reached by its main campaign might prove excessive to some, but anyone who walks into it is bound to notice the company’s usual suspects: the charming visuals; the excellent level design; and the creativity that is necessary to keep on coming up with new ideas inside such a limited scope. Thanks to the capabilities of the Nintendo DS, Advance Wars: Dual Strike finds not just a control scheme that is ideal for the type of experience it provides, but also the opportunity to exhibit battles in two fronts that interact with one another. And thanks to the incredible talent of the Intelligent Systems team behind it, it finds enough polished war scenarios to keep fans going for dozens of hours.

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is not brilliant solely because it unlikely finds a way to transform a profession of mundane character into a unique gaming experience; even though that is undoubtedly one of its most remarkable achievements, it is far from being the only one. This is a package whose cases and characters have a similar worth to those found in great books, films, and television shows dedicated to portraying criminal investigations. The thrill of its action, the surprise of its twists, the weight of its dramas, and the excellence of its humor are pleasantly matched by brain-teasing puzzles that push players into slowly undoing the apparently very solid cases that have been built against the protagonist’s clients. The result goes beyond a title with unique gameplay, giving the adventure a vibrant soul that makes it no surprise it would be the first of many installments from a long-running and greatly beloved franchise.

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Mario Golf: Super Rush

Mario Golf: Super Rush is a mixed bag. On a positive note, the title pulls off the miraculous task of reinventing a sport, and it does so in three ways that are excellent. Contrasting with that energy, however, the game has such obvious holes when it comes to content that it works as a prime example of how the success of a franchise can cause studios to take a lazy approach to what they produce. And that lackluster nature sadly happens to be accompanied by gameplay stumbles that cause a perfectly established accuracy mechanic to be thrown out the window and replaced by a much worse system. Still, Mario Golf: Super Rush should not be disregarded. Its core is still good, and be it in the sports’ traditional setup or in its fun new variations, the game is likely to hook those with a love for multiplayer, whether it is online or in person. In a way, it is a testament to the strength of the series, which is able to deliver quality even in an effort that is so incomplete and problematic; yet, it is inevitably sad to see that the value that was meant to be the main driving force of the franchise is working to hold it back from greatness. Because Mario Golf: Super Rush could have been irrevocably marvelous if its brand, concept, and mechanics alone were not enough to guarantee its success.

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Oxenfree

Carrying the sensibilities of suspense films and rescuing the frequently tarnished premise of a teenage group getting into supernatural trouble, Oxenfree is a clear display of how far the gaming industry has come in terms of storytelling. Through nearly constant smoothly flowing dialogues powered by excellent writing and delivered with flawless acting, the game turns its central cast of characters into an unforgettable ensemble; the kind of group that transcends the boundaries of the product to become an important part of the lives of those who join them on their journey. As a bonus, the arch of these starring teenagers is tied with a thrilling tale of horror. Surely, it is disappointing that a truly satisfying explanation to the title’s core mystery can only be achieved through a boring and relatively long sidequest. Moreover, anyone looking for a bit more action might be a bit underwhelmed by an adventure that is cleared by mostly walking, selecting dialogue lines, and tuning a radio. But except for those who fall into the latter faction, Oxenfree should not be missed. Writing that is this good just does not appear very often, and even though games may be starting to challenge books and movies when it comes to weaving tales, great stories like this are still a rare find regardless of the medium.

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Space Station Silicon Valley

Space Station Silicon Valley is a sea of possibilities that is unmatched as far as the Nintendo 64 goes. With forty-two animals to be controlled, each with its own set of skills, it gives players great freedom when it comes to figuring out what needs to be done; better yet, in some instances, it offers multiple paths to get to the same goal. It effectively feels like a cartoonish sandbox experience, and it is – in many senses – ahead of its time. Sadly, in numerous areas, it also pales in comparison to its contemporaries, showcasing misguided design decisions and problematic camera angles that significantly detract from its conceptual excellence. Expecting Space Station Silicon Valley to match the classics of the console is, therefore, a mistake; and the best way to see it is as a product of great ambition that stumbles on frustrating technical details that although impossible to overlook, do not completely destroy the enjoyment that can be gotten out of it.

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Mischief Makers

There is charm in the hyperactive weirdness of Mischief Makers, a title that is in genre alone already quite odd due to how it is a sidescroller released for the Nintendo 64. Sadly, the game seems overpowered by the joy it finds in its freedom. Although undeniably original, it is completely unable to stop and plan how to introduce its ideas to players appropriately, leading to a good deal of confusion. Worse yet, even if it contains great variety, it fails in developing nearly all of its mechanics to a remarkable degree, leaving its stages as sketches of what could have been. Mischief Makers is a testament to how creativity on its own simply does not cut it. The grabbing movement it is centered around is a brilliant tool that opens many doors, but with such undercooked levels, the value of that ability is mostly lost. In the end, this is clearly a product put together by folks who had long been looking for the freedom to try concepts that were purely fun, and they sure got it; however, its inability to focus on one mechanic for more than a few of minutes makes it feel like a little restraint would have done Mischief Makers a lot of good.

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Star Wars Episode I: Racer

Published in a system with plenty of solid racing games, Star Wars Episode I: Racer employs clever gameplay mechanics, a unique approach to course design, and the power of a universally beloved franchise to rank as a worthy experience, pleasantly giving players the chance of stepping into one of the only memorable moments of The Phantom Menace. As a result of the need to release it alongside the movie which inspired it, the title comes with a few glaring holes and possible improvements that would perhaps have been taken care of if the schedule of its development had been more flexible. Still, these issues do not send it to the trash can reserved for movie-related games that are nothing but quick cash-ins; Star Wars Episode I: Racer actually stands pretty far from it, and what it offers is quality futuristic high-speed racing.

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Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap

By landing in a world that is absolutely packed with brilliant games that either belong to the Metroidvania genre or take inspiration from it, there is really no way The Dragon’s Trap could have measured up to the best of them. This is, after all, a remake of an 8-bit title; and one that deliberately opted to preserve the gameplay of the original in its entirety. Consequently, despite flawless visual and musical updates, its overall spirit inevitably reveals an outdated heart. But antiquated and bad are far from being synonyms, and The Dragon’s Trap pulls one incredible trick when it proves that what was great back then can still be enjoyable as long as its design was smartly done. The Dragon’s Trap does not come in to dethrone the new kings of the castle. What it does, instead, is provide a satisfying glimpse into the genre’s past, revealing that it knew much better than many of its contemporaries how to use nonlinear gameplay to push action-platforming forward to completely new grounds.

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Monster Hunter Rise

The bottom line is that there are a few tiny punctual complaints that can be thrown at Monster Hunter Rise. In general, though, the balance of the changes executed by it leans far more to the positive than to the negative. Via its streamlining of various gameplay details, it ends up removing a lot of little annoying quirks that were more bothersome than challenging. Thanks to the beautiful flexibility it adds to hunters’ movement and arsenal, it produces the most thrilling and satisfying battles the saga has ever witnessed. And with a thick pile of progressively tough quests to be tackled, it gives players plenty of reasons to keep going for many hours. The conclusion is that, sure, Monster Hunter has been much harder and demanding in the past, but it is tough to make an argument that it has ever been this fun to play.

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What The Golf?

What the Golf? is so unpredictable it is a bit hard to summarize and it breaks so many rules that even its core concept is occasionally disrespected. Its essence, though, is that of a mini-game collection centered on a very narrow idea: physics-based shenanigans that heavily satirize the titular sport in ridiculous and varied ways. Its low production value and corny humor are absolutely calculated; the extent of its cleverness in gameplay as well as laughter, however, is magical, and the title squeezes a shocking degree of value out of the wish to turn the game of golf on its head. As a product that throws hundreds of ideas at the wall to see which ones stick, What the Golf? is naturally an effort of ups and downs; of brilliancy and dullness. The fact that its excellent moments far outnumber the problematic ones, though, means that it can be recommended without any caveats to anybody: avid gamers will encounter plenty of challenge; people who play casually will be hooked in by its humor and simplicity; those who hate golf will relate to its motivation and appreciate the shots taken at fixing the sport in the wildest possible ways; and those who love golf will like the surrealistic twists it implements on the game.

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