Advance Wars

Although it is technically simple, with its visual presentation lacking any considerable fireworks and its limited number of short songs quickly becoming repetitive, Advance Wars is a masterpiece of game design. It is a strategy title that absolutely excels in all areas that truly matter, offering gameplay that is astonishingly complex presented in a way that is accessible and charming. Given its sheer amount of missions, maps, units, and commanding officers, it is hard to fathom the degree of effort that Nintendo and Intelligent Systems put into making everything the title offers be as balanced as it is. However, even in the face of so many eye-popping victories, which are rarely found in such a cohesive conjunction in a single game, its greatest achievement is how it seamlessly brought a new franchise to new territory with so much quality and personality that the results could not have been different from absolute success and millions of enamored fans.

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Paper Mario: Color Splash

Where Sticker Star was the downfall, Color Splash is the fair shot at redemption: a game that tries to reconnect itself with what its prequel lost. However, it is visible its heart is not quite fully dedicated to that honorable quest. While it does, to an astounding degree, recover the spectacular funny writing over which the glory of Mario’s role-playing outings is constructed, it holds onto failed ideas that were introduced by Sticker Star and that ended up receiving the universal panning they deserved. Therefore, Color Splash is frustratingly ambivalent, as it shows Nintendo working at the peak of its creative powers, and at the lowest depths of its unshakable stubborn nature.

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Rainbows And Dark Clouds

If it were taken to court and placed on the defendant’s seat, Color Splash would not be able to summon a single alibi to escape the accusation of carrying those features: the verdict would be quick, and the game would be sent to the prison where all offenders of good game design rot for all eternity. However, differently from Sticker Star, an endless lifeless slog in the form of a game, Color Splash is actually fun. Undoubtedly, it does have its share of annoying vices – for example, specific Thing Cards are still a must to make boss battles manageable and to help Mario clear certain obstacles. Nonetheless, in the fixing, or in the minimal shifts in implementation, of many of Sticker Star’s dull mechanics, it finds a way to be successful and entertaining.

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Fire Emblem Fates

All in all, Fire Emblem Fates succeeds in picking up where Awakening left off and building on the extremely solid grounds established by it. The game puts together an impressive and complex universe and uses it as the setting for three distinct stories of equally engaging strategy sequences and deeply emotional events. Not only do Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation all go down in history as some of the finest Fire Emblem games ever released, but they also appeal to a wide array of audiences with their simple yet effective production values, flexible difficulty settings, exciting mechanics, and absolutely remarkable characters. Like a lengthy and epic series of books, when the Fates trilogy comes to a close following at least seventy hours of gameplay, players will not be relieved to finally have reached full closure; they will actually feel a tug at their hearts for having to leave such a fantastic world. And that alone should be a testament loud enough to prove the greatness that is found inside Fire Emblem Fates.

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Roads Not Taken

Fire Emblem Fates winds up being a rare case of a game whose most contested feature before its release ends up being its greatest prowess: the diverging paths and versions offer fulfilling experiences that appeal to distinct groups of fans, while also leaving the door open for new fans to enjoy Conquest by lowering its difficulty and for veterans to tackle a more brutal take on Birthright. Even though the writing occasionally falters in some places, especially regarding dialogues supporting character development, it is a worthy sequel to the glory that was Fire Emblem: Awakening.

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Give the People What They Want

The path to the restoration, or to the maintenance, of a franchise is often not the one fans expect companies to take. In other words, it is possible that Nintendo has learned, through a negative experience, what the limits of the Paper Mario franchise are, and that Color Splash is an honest attempt to successfully integrate some failed elements of Sticker Star into the saga without bringing it down and leaving it devoid of personality. Or, of course, it could be the good old and stubborn Big N trying to prove, against all odds and feedback, that some of their obviously misguided ideas can actually work. The best one can do for now is hope that by not giving the people what they want, Nintendo will happen to actually give us what we have wanted all along.

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Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

Although not as easy-to-recommend as a masterpiece of the caliber of Fire Emblem, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is certainly better than average. Not all of its experiments click, and some of its flaws have the potential to completely alienate a considerable audience, but to those who are fans of the genre and are willing to try something drastically different and that packs quite a punch when it comes to challenge, giving it a try might prove to be the unearthing of an unsung little pleasure.

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Half Steam Ahead

Henry Fleming, from The Red Badge of Courage; Queequeb, from Moby Dick; Scarecrow and Lion, from The Wizard of Oz; Tiger Lily, from Peter Pan; and others come together on a steam-punk cell-shaded setting whose lines and motifs were clearly inspired by comic books. One cannot help but wonder what kind of creative oppression could possibly lead to such a sudden wild outburst, but the bottom line is that the final result is mixed.

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Steampunk Freedom

From a superficial outlook, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. easily comes off as redundant; a product that will naturally tackle the same terrain plowed by Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. However, a more profound analysis proves otherwise; the title is in fact a much needed addition to Intelligent Systems’ library, for it gives the company something neither Advance Wars nor Fire Emblem can offer: sheer freedom in game design.

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Paper Mario: Sticker Star

In the end, Paper Mario: Sticker Star is by no means comparable to its predecessors in terms of quality. Not only are some of its gameplay elements flawed to the point where the game feels underdeveloped, such as in the poor difficulty balance and the lack of purpose on the battles, but it is also lacking tremendously in the storyline category, as none of the characters, settings or mysteries that made the previous Paper Mario games can be found in this installment.

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