150th Review Special, Part 2: Throwing Caution to the Wind

I use yellow scores whenever I can’t officially recommend nor dissuade people from playing the game in question. The exact score I use depends on which way I would go if somebody pressed me enough with a 4/10 meaning probably avoid, a 5/10 meaning I’m not sure, and a 6/10 meaning play if you’re a fan. Either way, we’re officially done talking about bad games from this point onward.

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Metroid: Samus Returns

The 2000s was arguably the most prolific decade for a majority of Nintendo’s big-name franchises. The Zelda franchise issued several beloved installments such as Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. At the same time, the Mario franchise became highly experimental; Super Mario Sunshine had the title character explore a tropical island with a highly pressurized water dispenser on his back while Super Mario Galaxy saw him explore the far reaches of space. However, Nintendo’s most unexpected move was in 2002 when the Metroid franchise saw not one, but two installments revitalize the franchise that had been dormant since the 1994 release of Super Metroid. One of these games, Metroid Prime, allowed the franchise to break into the third dimension. It was followed up with two sequels, forming what is considered one of the most solid trilogies in the medium. With the franchise proving its continued relevance in the face of their new competition, the future seemed bright for Metroid.

Indeed, going into the 2010s, enthusiasts were excited to play the upcoming Metroid: Other M. Retro Studios demonstrated the franchise’s flexibility with their imaginative scenarios, and Metroid: Other M would be a comparatively simplistic return to form courtesy of Yoshio Sakamoto, the man who directed Super Metroid. It seemed as though this new installment was geared to join Super Metroid and the Metroid Prime trilogy as one of the series’ hallmarks. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. In a shocking turn of events, the same game that topped countless lists regarding the most anticipated titles of 2010 received anomalously bad word-of-mouth. By the end of 2010, the game failed to sell one-million units. Only two years after its release would it pass the threshold. This was an unthinkably dismal performance for a first-party Nintendo game.

The point of contention among most independent critics concerned its story. Mr. Sakamoto had poured a lot of his soul into the project, wishing to provide a definitive characterization of series protagonist Samus Aran. However, said characterization proved problematic for a majority of the enthusiasts who played it – not only abroad, but domestically as well. Consequently, the scenario was universally panned to the point where many critiques failed to mention the gameplay. Depending on one’s perspective, said gameplay was either passable or outright bad. Though the exact quality of Metroid: Other M was hotly debated, its status as a commercial disappointment couldn’t be contested.

For many years, there was no word of a new Metroid installment. The only game bearing the franchise’s name saw the light of day in 2015 under the name Metroid Prime: Federation Force. Because players felt it had little to do with the franchise, the game received a monumental preemptive backlash that persisted once it was released. Many enthusiasts resigned themselves to the fact that the Metroid franchise was effectively dead.

Luckily, all hope was not lost. Developers led by Yoshio Sakamoto began work on a new project in 2015 codenamed Matadora. Joining them on this endeavor was the Spain-based developer MercurySteam. They had previously pitched a Metroid game for the 3DS and Wii U. It was ultimately rejected, but Mr. Sakamoto took note of their interest in the series, and decided to collaborate with them. MercurySteam wished to remake Metroid Fusion, but Mr. Sakamoto instead suggested reimagining the series’ second installment, Metroid II: Return of Samus. He himself did not work on the classic Game Boy title, but he was enthusiastic about remaking it, believing it to be a vital part of the series’ lore. With the knowledge he and his company had developing Castlevania: Lord of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, Jose Luis Márquez found himself in the director’s chair alongside veteran developer Takehiko Hosokawa.

As it turns out, their project couldn’t have been timed any better. Metroid fans had been clamoring for a Metroid II remake for many years. It was to the point where one enthusiast, who went by the alias DoctorM64, took it upon himself to develop an unofficial remake titled AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake). For his troubles, Nintendo issued a cease-and-desist notice, and the game was taken offline. While fans were understandably upset, they later learned the biggest reason why Nintendo did what they did when they announced their own official remake. For his part, Mr. Sakamoto stated that, though he hadn’t seen the game, he appreciated the fan for caring so much about the series. On that note, DoctorM64 was just as excited about Nintendo’s project as Mr. Sakamoto himself. In fact, he bought a New 3DS XL with the specific purpose to play Nintendo’s Metroid II remake.

After much speculation, the game was released in September of 2017 for the 3DS under the name Metroid: Samus Returns. The Nintendo Switch had been released six months prior, but Mr. Sakamoto had declined releasing it on that platform due to the 3DS’s larger consumer base at the time. He also felt the dual screens allowing players to view the map during gameplay would be of an immense help. Upon release, Samus Returns was well-received. After a lackluster showing for a majority of the decade, it was seen as the return to form the series needed to stay relevant in the eighth console generation. Mr. Sakamoto had spent a majority of this decade a laughing stock among long-time enthusiasts – especially on message boards. Was Samus Returns able to restore the goodwill he lost?

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A Question for the Readers #9: Cutting it Close

Any experienced gamer has doubtlessly run into a situation where their character is facing certain death. Most of the time, this situation is accompanied with a feeling of annoyed resignation. A reload is inevitable and all of the progress you made since you last saved is seconds away from being forfeit. However, every so often, a minor miracle occurs – you manage to stave off certain defeat long enough to turn the tables and win. Though gamers typically win more often than they lose, these particular victories stand out – even if no one else is around to appreciate it.

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100th Review Special, Part 10: The Best of the Best

If it’s one thing I’ve observed over the years, it’s that every critic or outlet seems to have a different attitude concerning the highest grade on their scale. Some hand them out like penny candy while others outright refuse to ever assign a 10/10 on the basis that there is no perfect work. Personally, I feel the former approach devalues the grading scale to the point of inanity. After all, if you hand out too many top grades, it doesn’t leave much in the way of middle ground; you either award a perfect score or you don’t. Though I can see where the people bearing the opposite mentality come from, I feel refusing to assign the highest grade on your scale denotes a lack of respect for the medium, and perfection is such nebulous concept to begin with. Naturally, my own approach is between the two extremes. I can and will award a 10/10, but I don’t award it to just any game. Indeed, one of my rules is that I can only award the grade once per franchise – this includes spinoffs. Therefore, I tend to think very carefully whenever I’m confronted with a masterful game whether or not it deserves such an accolade. Going the extra mile isn’t enough; I have to be convinced that these are once-in-a-lifetime achievements that will hold up in the coming years. So without further ado, let’s bring the list to a close with five games I feel managed to truly earn that top honor.

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100th Review Special, Part 8: The Elite Eights

I have to admit that between the three colors I use, the green tiers are the ones for which my process of assigning grades is the least scientific. When I was developing my rating system, I wanted to make it clear to readers that a game really has to go the extra mile to earn an 8/10 or higher so as not to devalue the highest grades. Admittedly, it does come down to gut feelings to a greater extent than when I’m entertaining the idea of assigning a red or yellow score. For games I’ve awarded an 8/10, there might be a few minor issues present, but they’re easy to overlook in favor of appreciating what they do well. These are games you should give high priority should they end up on your backlog.

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100th Review Special, Part 7: Let the Good Times Roll

We are now finished with the red and yellow tiers; the only ones left are the green tiers. In this post, I’ll be looking back over the games I’ve awarded a 7/10. The key difference between this tier and the one directly preceding it concerns my stance when asked whether or not I’d recommend a game. A 6/10 is a game I would have some reservations about recommending even if I think it’s technically good overall. There are no such reservations from this point onward; these are all games that were able to earn my seal of approval.

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100th Review Special, Part 6: Smooth Sailing from Here

Finally, a tape collection I can get behind! I hope The Fullbright Company is taking notes.

We are now in the second half of my 100th review special! A 6/10 isn’t a terrible grade on my scale. It means that I have reservations recommending the game in question, but it ultimately does more right than wrong. Furthermore, as per my rules, a 6/10 is the highest grade a game with a weak ending can receive. A few of the following entries are indeed titles that would otherwise deserve to be on higher tiers. I feel not enough creators realize how important it is to stick the landing. After all, the ending is the last impression you have a work; if it’s bad, it almost doesn’t matter if the material leading up to it was good. Rest assured, from this point onward, we’ll be discussing games that are worth a try.

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100th Review Special, Part 4: March of the Mediocrity

The primary difference between a 3/10 and a 4/10 on my scale is that I couldn’t personally endorse playing any game from the former tier. With the latter tier, my stance when it comes to the question of recommending a game is less straightforward. Essentially, a 4/10 means that I would be more likely to dissuade people from playing the game in question, yet it does just enough right so as to not make the experience irredeemably bad. In practice, quite a lot of the entries on this tier are games that had historical significance, yet are decidedly inaccessible from a modern standpoint. Either way, now that we’re out of the red-score tiers, you can rest easy knowing that from here on out, I’ll be talking about games that are, for the most part, worth looking into.

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100th Review Special, Part 2: The Terrible Twos

When I consider assigning a 2/10, my thought process involves asking myself if the terrible game I just played can be enjoyed ironically. If so, this is the grade I award the game in question, and if not, it gets a 1/10 instead. To be clear, it’s more of a general guideline than a cast-iron rule, and the point I try to get across when awarding this grade is that it does have a redeeming quality or two (or barring that, it doesn’t quite go the extra mile in terms of sheer badness). Regardless, I still couldn’t recommend the following games in any capacity.

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Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes proved to be another success for Retro Studios, and was declared by many publications to be the GameCube’s finest offering of 2004. Unfortunately, even as many exclusive games received positive reviews, Nintendo’s fourth major console ultimately failed to match its predecessor, the Nintendo 64, in terms of sales, having moved approximately ten million fewer units. While not considered an outright failure, it paled in comparison to the competing Xbox and PlayStation 2 consoles. When Microsoft released their newest console, the Xbox 360, it was clear Nintendo had found themselves in a sink-or-swim predicament.

Around the time the GameCube launched in 2001, Nintendo conceived a new project. Shigeru Miyamoto, one of the company’s premier game designers, stated that the concept for this project, codenamed Revolution, involved focusing on a new form of player interaction. When it was unveiled in the E3 gaming conference of 2005, fans learned that the console primarily employed motion controls. Suddenly, after nearly a decade of lagging behind Sony and then Microsoft, Nintendo’s console, dubbed the Wii in 2006, became the talk of the town. When it launched later that year, it managed to outsell the Xbox 360, itself a hot seller.

Nintendo chose to showcase the Wii’s controller, the Wii remote, with a modified version of Metroid Prime 2. They demonstrated that Retro’s upcoming project, the concluding installment to their trilogy, would take full advantage of this novel control scheme. Though not comparable to the problems which plagued the development phase of Metroid Prime or its sequel, director Mark Pacini related in interviews the difficulties he and his team faced when creating this game. One of the biggest concerns was that they had too many buttons for the amount of functions they wanted to implement. The game was slated to coincide with the Wii’s 2006 launch, but the project ended up being delayed until the following year. Despite being the second sequel to one of the GameCube’s most beloved titles, the game had a minimalistic marketing campaign. The press speculated that it was part of Nintendo’s new focus on casual games for their newest console. Only after it was pointed out did they release a preview. Named Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, this game finally saw its official debut in North America in August of 2007, whereupon it too amassed critical acclaim from several publications. Considering that Metroid Prime and its sequel were the products of particularly troubled productions, what were the developers at Retro capable of under less taxing circumstances?

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