The Gaming Thing

This is it. I’ve now been Indie Gamer Chick for one-third of my life. Tomorrow marks eleven years since I opened IGC, and on July 11, I’ll turn 33-years-old. That’s a not-insignificant chunk of my lifespan spent making dick and fart jokes about video games as a means to actually say how much I like or dislike them. Which, looking back, the formula seems to be dick jokes for the good stuff and fart jokes for the bad. As it should be.

One of the voices in my head is telling me “HURRY UP AND GET THIS OVER QUICK SO WE CAN PLAY CUPHEAD!” The rest of the voices are telling me to burn things.

So, this is supposed to be that time of the year where I sit at my keyboard and tearfully thank all my readers for their continued support and wax poetically about the future of indie gaming. But, this time, the tears aren’t there. Oh, make no mistake, I’m thankful. From the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU to everyone who has ever supported my work here at IGC. I do love you all! No, the difference this year is, for the first time doing this annual tradition, I find myself looking nostalgically at the past. Indie gaming’s future is secure. When I started this blog in July, 2011, self-publishing was nonexistent on consoles, outside of the unloved and unseen Xbox Live Indie Games. Hell, Nintendo wouldn’t even talk to a creator who developed their games from home instead of a “studio, with a security system.” That security system apparently being a deadbolt. I’m not joking. Those days are long gone, and good riddance.

Instead, on this day, I find myself looking back at a life spent playing video games. Once upon a time, I was a little girl on the autism spectrum who had no friends. I also didn’t like to play with toys and had trouble having anything besides TV hold my interest. “You have to do SOMETHING more engaging with your free time!” my dad would often croak. My parents were constantly trying to find something that I could get into. I’d played a PlayStation kiosk at Sears at the mall, and told my parents I wouldn’t mind this. On Christmas morning in 1996, Santa Claus brought me a PlayStation with Crash Bandicoot, and I enjoyed it just fine.

Ever since I started doing game criticism, I’ve given the lion’s share of credit to my gaming fandom to Banjo-Kazooie. But actually, Crash Bandicoot was probably the best possible introductory game for a 7-year-old of its era. It’s sort of all-encompassing of the video game experience. Very underrated as a starter-game is Crash Bandicoot.

I wouldn’t call that specific moment life-altering. Rather, it planted an important seed. A seed that was, perhaps, a little damaged when my first outside-of-Christmas game that my parents selected was, I’m not kidding, BUBSY 3-D. Wow, fail, Mom & Dad! Of course, being just 7-years-old at the time, I didn’t exactly comprehend just how historically bad the game was. In fact, I kind of wanted to like it! I put a lot of time into it. I just didn’t understand why it wasn’t as easy to control as Crash Bandicoot was. These days, as IGC, I’d boil it in oil. But at that age, I was just frustrated by it. My parents redeemed that over the next year with games like Herc’s Adventures (REMEMBER THAT?) or Crash Bandicoot 2 for Christmas of 1997. I’d play them. I even beat both Crash games for the first time.

And then, on my 9th birthday, July 11, 1998, I got a Nintendo 64, along with Banjo-Kazooie, and everything changed. I wasn’t just enjoying this game. I was utterly, completely absorbed by it. Obsessed, really. I beat it about three weeks later, but I wasn’t finished. I wanted to get all the jigsaw pieces I missed, and then every note I missed. As summer turned to fall, my parents couldn’t believe I was still playing the same game. “Didn’t you beat this?” I must have heard, without exaggeration, a hundred times from them. When I finally got the last Jigsaw piece I didn’t have, I didn’t know if it would open more game content or not. When it didn’t, I wept. No joke. Like Alexander, I didn’t celebrate, but rather cried, for there were no more worlds to conquer. And I wanted so much more, and my parents obliged.Over the next few months, mascot platformers like Super Mario 64 and Spyro the Dragon dominated my free time. When my parents got me Yoshi’s Story and it was so pathetically easy that I saw the end credits in just a few hours, I wanted to see what else gaming had to offer.

The answer was: EVERYTHING!

Goldeneye! Blast Corps! San Francisco Rush! NBA Courtside! Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time! Gran Turismo! All day, every day, at least when I wasn’t forced to stop to eat, sleep, or sit with my tutor and do school work (I was home schooled. My first grade teacher sort of broke me for school forever). I lied earlier. Here come the tears. Because I look back at that time and remember how excited I was by every new release, or something as simple as the new issue of a gaming magazine with a demo disc, and it was so life altering for me. I was a really unhappy little kid, and gaming changed so much for me. I’d found my thing, and the amazing thing about video games is they’re always getting better. Anyone who says otherwise is just drunk on nostalgia.

Some of those 007 difficulty missions were a pain in the ass, but 10-to-12 year-old me aced them all. Goldeneye was the first “super difficult game” I beat, though it took a LONG time (like seriously two years or more) for me to actually finish all those 007 missions. I never really got to show off my skills though, as I was the worst of the four kids who played Goldeneye at an autism support group for kids, where we basically would just play Goldeneye for hours. This kid named Bradley James was so good that we’d play 3 on 1 matches against him and be lucky in some modes if we were even able to spawn without dying. Compared to him, the 007 levels were a walk in the park.

I think the final, solidifying moment of video games becoming everything to me had to be the launch of the Sega Dreamcast. My first ever brand spanking new day one console. I got to go get it at midnight on September 9, 1999. I’d be surprised if I ever got up off the couch once after I threw Sonic Adventure on and kept playing well after the time the sun rose. I mean, I assume I must have gone to the bathroom at some point, but I question even that now! By the end of September, when I was getting hyped for a goddamned fishing game, Sega Bass Fishing, it was a done deal. Gaming was everything to me. All I wanted to do. Any time not spent on a game was a complete waste of time It was a three console process that took place over the course of about three years, but by time Christmas of 1999 rolled around and all I wanted was more video games.

The underrated star of the Dreamcast launch lineup. I had Afro Thunder’s stats so boosted that I literally couldn’t lose. It wasn’t exactly a balanced game, was it?

I was 10-years-old when the Dreamcast launched, and I’ve had an up-and-down life since then. A life that, yes, included extended periods of substance abuse. Nobody is the same person they were as a child, and if they say they are, it’s probably because they’re a douchebag. But, there’s something incredibly reassuring that, twenty-three years later, I’m still spending basically all my free time playing games. They’re still totally capable of filling me with a sense of playful awe. That I can still sit down with my father, 40 years my senior, and Angela, my kid sister 20 years my junior, and the three of us can laugh and cheer and high-five playing a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game in 2022 is such a wonderful thing. My parents always were so happy and supportive of my love of video games, and they’d take time every day to watch me play and ask me questions about it, but they didn’t join me.

There were exceptions, like Wii Sports, Peggle, or especially Boom Blox. For a while, we’d bust Boom Blox out at parties. WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, BOOM BLOX?! COME BACK!!

Well, not anymore. Today, we have four Nintendo Switches in our household. Each of us has one, and my Mom puts about two hours into her Animal Crossing Village or her New Pokemon Snap high scores every day, and she’s cuddled up on my Dad who might be beating Ghostbusters: The Game on his own Switch while he’s at it. Angela’s not passionate about gaming, but she plays her Switch a lot, holds multiple digital pinball world records (so does both Dad and myself), and is already a contributor at The Pinball Chick. My family plays games now, too? Who says dreams don’t come true?!

One of the most common questions I get from my readers and my social media followers is do I wish I had gone into a career in gaming? Usually this takes the form of “do you wish you had gotten into game development?” People are always surprised at how quickly and easily I answer that question: no. I guess that makes me somewhat unique among those who grew up as clinically-addicted game fanatics. The thing is, I never thought I could make a game better than the stuff I play. Well, I mean, sure that depends on the game. One of the dumbest clap-backs to a review is “OH YEA, LIKE YOU COULD DO BETTER!” Which, the obvious reply is “than this game? Well, I have no experience, no artistic ability, no technical know-how, but.. yea, I could pull a better game out of my ass than this. I mean, if I actually wanted to.” But, I don’t. It’s nothing I ever remotely aspired to. I didn’t doodle characters. I didn’t map out levels. I didn’t think of wild twists on the formulas I loved. I loved playing games, but I don’t make them. I still don’t. I’ve had ONE idea for a game in my whole life, for a twin stick Tetris Attack-like game, and I don’t even think it would work.

NBA 2K

My other great passion in life is the sport of basketball, and my only REAL regret in life (well, besides the drugs, BUT HEY, four years sober now!) is that I didn’t pursue a career in basketball. I mean, as a scout or GM. Other than golfing, I’ve never played a real sport in my entire life. Besides, I’m 4 foot 11 inches tall and I chain smoke like a steam engine. Not exactly the traits of a great athlete. But, I’ve loved basketball since I was 6-years-old. I get a kick out of how people call me a “bandwagon fan” for the Golden State Warriors, when my first season watching kicked off a historic drought of them not making the playoffs. Ten fucking years, which ended when the “We Believe” squad pulled off a historic upset of the #1 seed Dallas Mavericks while I collapsed on the floor and cried tears of joy FOR HOURS! I thought that was as good as it would ever get being a Warriors fan. Heh. Who knew?

Nah, I didn’t ever want to work in video games. I think that’s a big part of why I’ve been able to find success as Indie Gamer Chick. I don’t have to pretend like I’m a professional games journalist. I’m not. I never will be. I don’t consider myself an especially talented writer, so I think there’s something about not wanting this to be a career that is reassuring to my readers and followers. I don’t have a Pateron and never will. I don’t ask for money and tell everyone who wants to contribute that they can donate money towards epilepsy research. I almost never take review codes, unless it’s for retro collections or games not yet released (and for those, I buy a copy when the game comes out every time). I can be crass, and I can probably be annoying, and sometimes people REALLY disagree with my opinions, but there’s nothing cynical about IGC. My favorite quote comes from Conan O’Brien, on his final Tonight Show.

“Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. It’s my least favorite quality, and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

It’s true. My only real regrets with my body of work is that, early on, I had a tendency to be a little too mean-spirited with my negative reviews. Hurt feelings can’t be avoided when a game gets a less than positive reception. Bad games aren’t cranked out of a factory (insert obvious AAA joke here, Ubisoft or EA or whatever). They’re made by people who are often well-meaning and love gaming every bit as much as I do. One of my best friends today, Shahed, is someone whose game I completely demolished, and he’ll never let me forget it, that’s for sure. I’m happy he doesn’t. It’s a constant reminder: review the games, not the developer. That’s the advice I give everyone who wants to do game reviews. And especially don’t assume any bad intentions.

“COME ON CATHY, WRAP THIS SHIT UP!” And burn things.

Actually, my best advice beyond that is, when you do your thing as a gaming content creator is ALWAYS take time to remind yourself why you fell in love with video games in the first place. Because sometimes you’ll be bored and sometimes you’ll have writers block and sometimes you’ll be stuck with a game that’s so middle-of-the-road that you have nothing interesting to say about it. For the longest time, I was mad myself that I didn’t produce as much content as I used to here at IGC. The next review is for Shredder’s Revenge by Tribute Games. The last of their games I reviewed was Wizorb way back in September, 2011. It was my 101st review!! I had only been open for just under three months! Holy crap, I was turning out reviews like a machine back then! And, I hated that I don’t do that anymore. That I CAN’T do that anymore.

Then I realized something: hey wait, who cares? I have an outlet to talk about games and to jump around and play whatever I want, whenever I want, and I’m not a professional so deadlines and due dates don’t apply. And, what do you know? The last twelve months have been the most fun I’ve had since launching IGC on July 1, 2011. How lucky am I? Eleven years later, and I still have fun with this. Over the last couple years, I’ve found my new #1 game of all-time when I ran through Mario Odyssey a second time. I’ve set pinball world records. I’ve played THOUSANDS of retro games. I’ve conquered Cuphead (and I’m about to do it again!) and Dead Cells and many more. After a quarter century of playing video games, and now having spent one-third of my life now doing Indie Gamer Chick, I’m still having the time of my life, doing the Gaming Thing.

Cathy Vice
June 30, 2022

The Mod Complex: Episode Two – Super MODio Bros. 3 (CONTAINS THE GREATEST 2D MARIO GAME OF ALL-TIME!)

Some ROM hackers are capable of absolutely amazing things. Sure, some are content to just draw dicks on Punch-Out!! fighters, or change Mario to Wario in the original Super Mario Bros. It makes wadding through the literal thousands of ROM hacks out there tedious. It’s exhausting trying to find the good stuff. So, from here out, I’m going to help y’all find those must play games. The ones that use the original game as a base for an entirely new adventure.

EPISODE TWO: SUPER MODIO BROS. 3

Spent an hour trying to think of the title and that’s what I came up with.

There’s no denying that Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the greatest games of all-time. It’s universally accepted. I know this because I catch holy hell anytime I note it’s my third favorite 2D Mario game, behind Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario World. I wrote a lengthy love letter to Mario 2, and I’ve openly said that Mario World is the best-controlling 2D platformer ever, even if I’m not totally blown away by the level design at times. Mario 3 is somewhere below those two. I’m not in love with the auto-scrolling airship levels, or the bite-sized Hammer Bros. encounters, and I think a few of the worlds are full of stinkeroos of levels (2 and 6 spring to mind).

Super Mario Bros. 3 (Japan) (Rev A)-220522-011422

I get that Mario 3 was THE gaming event of a generation that came before me, but it’s literally insane that people are offended that you don’t call a game “the greatest of all-time.” If it is for you, good for you. It’s not for me. It’s not even in the top fifty. It wasn’t an event in my life. Fun fact: Super Mario Bros. 3 actually made its American debut when it was added to Play-Choice 10 arcade machines in the United States on July 15, 1989. That’s exactly four days after I was born! I didn’t really play it until it became Super Mario Advance 4 (which released in Japan on July 11, 2003, which happens to have been my 14th birthday!). And, you know, it was great! It’s Mario 3! Mario 3 is great!

And it proved to be an inspiration for a new generation of game makers. Now, Nintendo obviously knows what a talented developer with a vision and the proper tools can do with the foundations they’ve laid with the Super Mario franchise. That’s why Super Mario Maker happened. The modding community has done some incredible things with Super Mario 3. I have four such experiences for you to check out, two of which left me in tears because I was just so overjoyed with how good they were. Let’s begin and end with those!

Never judge a book by its cover.. or a game by its title screen. Going off this, I figured this would be awful. I never imagined I was about to discover one of the greatest Mario games ever made.

Super Mario Ultimate

Normally, Mario Ultimate would be the type of ROM hack I’m not looking for. It’s mostly a respriting and level remix of Mario 3. It doesn’t add a whole lot new to the formula, but there are some tweaks. Like, there’s a reserve item now, and that’s really cool. A couple stages feature a small green block that acts as a platform that you have to push into position. There’s a handful of new enemies and new behaviors. But, beyond that, it’s what you expect from a run-of-the-mill Mario 3 ROM hack, right down to an over-emphasis on previously underutilized powers like the Frog Suit and especially the Tanooki suit. With so many mods that add whole new powers and gameplay mechanics, why would I even bother with this?

Because it might actually be in the discussion for best 2D Mario game ever made.

It even has difficulty settings. I played on “Gamer” and have no clue what “hard” means. This was pretty damn hard on Gamer, so who knows?

I’m not exaggerating when I say that, if Nintendo had released Super Mario Ultimate, it would be considered a landmark in platform gaming level design. Mario Ultimate makes you realize how pedestrian the levels in Mario 3 are. Oh, it’s full of many fine levels, no doubt. That’s why it’s an all-timer. BUT, having replayed Mario 3 after I ran through this game, I was struck by how basic they are. They still boil down to “go from POINT A to POINT B” for the most part. The most experimental Nintendo got with it was, like, making one of the airship stages go really, really fast. Even that’s mundane.

There’s a huge emphasis on close shaves between you and the blade things there. It works though. It’s one of the most thrilling Mario games for sure.

Super Mario Ultimate feels like a mad scientist looked at all the base tools and physics of Mario 3 and said “how can I screw around with this in a way where a player must use it to clear a stage?” Like, you know those windmill platforms that spin around and can knock you across the stage? Well, what if you put one of those next to an ice platform and made it slide the player like a curling stone? Or what if you had to use the Tanooki Suit’s statue on the right side of a moving platform and have the platform shove you past obstacles? That’s the type of design you see in Super Mario Ultimate. While it has a handful of basic levels, most of the design is based around using the already-existing gameplay in unique ways.

The puzzles aren’t of the Baba is You thinking-cap variety. More like finding your way through things. Like here, there’s a shell that breaks through blocks, and tons of invisible blocks that you have to hit to create a pathway for the shell to eventually set off a block that creates a vine that lets you get out of the stage. And no, you can’t cheese your way through these levels with P-Wings. Trust me, I tried.

And it’s brilliant! There’s a few stages that feel weirdly janky, but certainly no weirder or haphazard as the Special World levels from Super Mario World. Hell, that’s actually the closest comparison I could come up with for Super Mario Ultimate: like someone had the Special World mentality of Mario World spread over the course of an entire game. A series of high-concept stages, executed flawlessly in a way that is sure to surprise even the most hardened Mario fan. It’s dazzling and left me in tears when I finished the final stage. I never imagined I’d play another 2D Mario game this good.

There’s several “lost woods” style “where the HELL is the exit?” stages, but all of them are super fun to play, with none of them using space logic. You can sort out all of them through trial and error.

It almost feels like Mario 3 if Mario 3 had puzzle elements. There’s new ideas like racing to reach a platform before a vine gets to it. If you fail at that, it’s okay. Just go through a door and the room resets for you to try again. If a stage requires a specific suit for you to complete it, you’ll be provided with it at the start of the level. Now granted, I used save states heavily while I played it, but I tried to avoid things like rewinding (except to grab media) because I wanted to experience the game’s intended difficulty. Which is pretty well balanced. It’s hard, for sure, but in a good way. It definitely frustrates you, sure, but Super Mario Ultimate never fully angers you.

You get tons of Tanooki Suits and a smattering of Frog Suits to help you out. The card matching game seriously gives you like four Tanooki suits in Super Mario Ultimate. Oh, and the game goes nuts with the bouncing music blocks.

It’s not all perfect. I think the game overuses quicksand. I’d never of been able to finish this if I didn’t have autofire for some of the sections to take the edge off the required button-mashing. I also wish more had been done to alter the fights with the Koopalings at the end of each world. As far as I can tell, only one of the six was toyed with: the one who balances on a ball added platforms to playfield that made the fight feel totally fresh. On the other hand, the Boom-Boom fights at the end of castles, after a few basic ones, have been totally freshened-up, and some of them are jaw-dropping in how they work. While I’m on the subject, there’s THREE possible final levels, each with a unique way arena for battling Bowser. Play all three. Trust me. They’re awesome.

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Probably the biggest problem with Super Mario Ultimate is that the best levels are mostly in the final two worlds. But, that might work in service to the game. It’s one of very few titles I’ve ever played that gets better as it goes along. Often I’m anxious for a game to be over by time I reach the end. For Super Mario Ultimate, I probably would have gone another five or six full game worlds at the rate it was going. It never got boring. Every time I thought I’d seen it all and the developer HAD to be out of ideas, yet another new concept would be introduced. Oh, it’s the last world? How about a puzzle where you have to guide Goombas down a series of platforms so you can spring off one and reach a pipe? The best thing I can say about Super Mario Ultimate: I might look back on it as the best 2D Mario game I’ve ever played. Only time will tell. That time being a week later, when I played the last game featured today. Anyway, get Mario Ultimate here.

Mario Adventure

By acclimation, Mario Adventure isn’t merely just one of the best Mario 3 ROM Hacks, but possibly the greatest ROM Hack of all time. I’m not even close to going that far. It’s FINE, but I found Ultimate to have much stronger level design. Here, the entire game is modified. New levels. New powers. New ideas. But, moderate level design and one game-ruining power. Unlike Mario Ultimate, this isn’t an attempt to build the most elaborate levels. Instead, this is a full reboot.

Some major changes: Fire Mario can jump super high (like Luigi in Mario 2), fireballs you spit travel in a straight line instead of hopping along the ground (but can curve around blocks) and there’s no lives. Instead of 1up Mushrooms, you get 50 coin mushrooms. Using the toad houses costs 300 coins, while the match-the-symbols roulette costs 100 coins and rewards you with items.

The first major thing you notice is that levels can have one of five different randomly-selected weather conditions: early morning, afternoon, night, rain, and snow. As far as I can tell, the only one that makes a difference is the snow setting, which makes EVERYTHING slippery. Even things like standing on the item blocks, you’ll slip and slide around. It makes solving some stages a miserable experience. This is somewhat tempered by the treasure-hunt feel of Mario Adventure. Each of the main seven game worlds has a key hidden somewhere in it. You have to find an invisible music note that will launch you to a special room that contains it. When you beat a game world, you get a clue that vaguely guides you to the key’s location. So vaguely that I resorted to a guide. I wish I could say this freshens up the whole experience, but I was actually pretty bored with it after a couple worlds.

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Then there’s the new power-ups. An invisible cap that is.. uh.. honestly I couldn’t figure out a use for it. But then there’s the magic wand, which turns you into Magic Mario. It works like the fire flower in Mario Adventure does, where you shoot projectiles that travel in a straight line instead of hopping across the ground. But, instead of fireballs, you shoot stars. The stars kill everything. Even if it’s a normally indestructible thing, don’t worry, the stars take it out. The end of stage Boom-Booms? Dead. In one hit. For real. Having trouble with the Boos? They die too. It’s absurdly over-powered. Also, once you have the wand it takes a whopping three hits to knock the suit off you. The only drawback is that, if you need a turtle shell to break a block, you can’t be Magic Mario because jumping on a turtle with the suit on kills the turtle and destroys the shell in one hit. Don’t worry though, because this is one of those mods that lets you bank an item like Mario World, and so you can swap Magic Mario for Racoon Mario just long enough to do what you need with the turtle. There’s a reason Nintendo has never included an item this over-powered in a game. Because it ruins everything.

One consistently mediocre aspect of ALL these Mario 3 mods (except the last one in this feature): the Koopalings are just shitty bosses. They’re boring. They’re too easy. They’re all sorta samey. And I’m not a fan of saying “well the point isn’t the bosses.” The point of Blaster Master isn’t the bosses, but holy shit, are they some damn memorable bosses. Even Nintendo understood the importance of them, because Doki Doki Panic had three Mousers. For Mario 2, Nintendo replaced one of them with an original character: a giant crab named Clawgrip.

I’m certainly not calling Mario Adventure mediocre or anything. For those in the generation before me, where Super Mario 3’s release was THE event of their childhood, they’ll certainly enjoy this a lot more than me. But, the difference between Mario Adventure and the best games featured in the Mod Complex: this feels like a ROM Hack. There’s a lack of authenticity. Ideally, the sweet spot is the ability to believe that Nintendo would put out something close to the hack. I never got that out of Mario Adventure. It’s a solid effort with some neat ideas, but I just didn’t feel it. It’s telling that, of the four games highlighted in this feature, this is the only I didn’t bother finishing, and the only of the three I’m not awarding my seal of approval to. But I do think Mario 3 mega fans will get a kick out of it, apparently, since many name it the greatest ROM hack of all time. I assume they didn’t play the other three games featured here. Anyway, get Mario Adventure here.

Mario in: Some Usual Day

I really should write these things right after I finish playing. I completed Some Usual Day six days ago, and I liked it, but now that I’m writing it the review of it, the only parts that still stand out to me is there’s a Zelda II themed dungeon and Boom-Boom jumped extra high. I had to go through the screencaps I took of it to remind myself “oh right, that was good. That was good too! That was really good. Eh, the Koopa Kids suck, but THAT was good..” You know what? This is a damn fine take on Mario 3, and I feel guilty that it just had the misfortune of being swallowed-up by the last game I played in Episode 2 of The Mod Complex.

It’s sort of hard to forget this part, really. AND YES, this is exactly what you want it to be: a Zelda II Dungeon-type-maze, only it’s Mario 3.

Some Usual Day is a solid, enjoyable, professional-quality take on Mario 3. It’s, more or less, like a more by-the-books expansion of Super Mario Bros. 3, with several twists. There’s special coins in the stages, though I’m not even sure if I figured out what they’re for. There’s only four game worlds, but the effort at making the levels be a joy to play is clear. Give me four worlds that are never boring over eight hit-and-miss ones any day of the week. It does manage to bring some fun twists, too. The Fire Flower stacks with other suits, so you can fly through the air as Racoon Mario and carpet-bomb enemies with fireballs, or be Frog Fire Mario (SO HELPFUL in many stages, to the point that I realize how much the real Mario 3 should have had this be a thing). Even funnier, you can have the firepower when you’re little Mario. It’s always good for a laugh.

Some Usual Day is loaded with secrets, and one day, I will go back and look for them. But, as good a time as I had, it still was just more Mario 3. It felt like finding an old pair of tennis shoes in the closet, putting them on, and remembering how good THIS pair felt. Walk around in them a bit, but as good as they feel, who wears Reebok Pumps anymore?

And it does manage to bring the clever occasionally. Like, one stage will start and you’ll immediately see coins arranged to spell-out GO! and you’re like “huh, what’s that about?” And then you see a sign post that says “HURRY-UP, MARIO!” and you look at the timer, and it’s already down to 90 seconds. “Oh.” AND IT WORKS because the level is designed as an intense maze. Great! Love it! Whereas Super Mario Ultimate wowed me with a mad scientist vibe, the level design of Some Usual Day feels almost scholarly, as if designed by the best student in Level Design 101. Nothing too radical or experimental, but just flawlessly designed and paced stages that highlight what a terrific game Mario 3 already was.

I wish it did more with the bosses. I just assumed that Mario 3’s engine, besides the iconic Bowser fight, just didn’t lend itself to good bosses. Then I played the next game, and uh.. yea, this could have done a lot better. THOUGH. Excellent Bowser fights, though.

And, really, that’s all I have to say. Grab Mario in Some Usual Day here. It actually gave me very little to criticize, which is annoying, because, you know, I’m goddamned Indie Gamer Chick and bitching about little things is my job. I guess Mario in Some Usual Day is remarkable in that sense. It doesn’t give me a lot to work with on the flip side. Which is, you know, my side. The side people used to come read this blog for. I dunno what to say. It’s not Some Usual Day.

Christ, that was tortured.

Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix

After one-and-a-half worlds, I almost walked away from Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix. Originally, I had Mario Ultimate as the finale of Mod Complex: Episode 2, and had intended Mix to be the buffer game I talked about in snarky, flattering but underwhelming terms. It made sense to me. Ultimate was so good it left me in tears. Do you know when the last time a retro game did that to me? Gunstar Heroes, which I played for the first time in 2018. It’s a rarity. Surely, it wouldn’t happen twice in one Mod Complex episode.

Make sure you read ALL THIS, because I think, as a review, I need to describe my full experience playing Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix to understand my verdict on this one.

Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix allows you to choose between Mario, Luigi, or Toad. Do they have different jumping physics? Different play speeds? Do you have to switch between them to access some secrets or clear specific goals? NOPE! Luigi and Toad play exactly the same as Mario. And that’s FINE! Trust me, this game does enough. Oh boy, does it do enough.

I beat World 1 of Mario Mix, which is a tribute to the original Super Mario Bros and remakes many levels beat-for-beat, only it’s Super Mario 3’s engine. Impressive? Sure. Mimicry done right is crazy impressive, and Mario Mix did change-up the formula a touch by adding three hidden Star Coins in each stage to give it added play value. You’ll recall it’s the exact same trick Nintendo themselves used for Super Mario Bros. Deluxe on the Game Boy Color to give people who are sick of the same game they’ve played a million times before added value. It worked then, and it works here. They’re fun to collect. But, I already played these stages before. Hell, the thing I just referenced WAS a 1999 remake of Super Mario 1! This shit has been remade to death already! STOP DOING IT!!

“Wee! Look, I went down a pipe! Just like I did in 1987.” Spoiler: Mario Mix is actually amazing on a level I’ve never before experienced. I just wish worlds 1 and 2 paid tribute to the SPIRIT of the original games with new stuff instead of just rebuilding the same old levels.

And then, Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix got really weird. World 2 is based on Super Mario Bros. 2. As in re-skinned, over-powered Doki Doki Panic. Now, I’ve lubricated all-over Mario 2 already. It WAS my previous favorite 2D Mario game. And while playing that game with Mario 3’s physics sounds like a fun experiment, and trust me, this is THOSE STAGES, so convincing that it blew my mind at the effort that must have gone into building them, those stages only work to the degree they did within Mario 2’s engine. Transplant Mario 3’s engine, physics, and powers into that, and it becomes just very bland. Never totally boring, because I was just fascinated by the total dissonance of it all. But it was the same issue: been there, done that. Hello, Mario 2 has been remade before as the goddamned flagship launch game of the Game Boy Advance, Super Mario Advance. AND DO YOU FUCKING PEOPLE REMEMBER MARIO ALL-STARS?! I get what Mario Mix was trying to be: a tribute to all things Mario, but after two levels of World 2, I said “you know what? This isn’t for me.”

The Star Coins are one of the highlights. They take-up the spot that previously held the cards you got at the end of stages in Mario 3 (that whole thing is replaced by a flagpole). These days, I rarely try to ace levels. Only two recent games were so fun I actively sought out EVERYTHING: Mario Odyssey and Mario Mix. If Super Mario Odyssey is the 3D Mario formula made perfect, then Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix is the 2D Mario formula made perfect.

So, I quit. I wrote up a few paragraphs about Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix (which I’ll just call Mario Mix from here out if it’s okay with you) comparing it to Mario Maker’s user levels. Anyone who has played any of Nintendo’s Mario Maker games knows 90% of the user-made levels are remakes of the same fucking levels we’ve all played a thousand times. Seriously, if I ever see Level 1 – 1 of Mario 1 again (or Green Hill from Sonic for that matter) I’m going to fucking scream! Was I impressed with how World 1 has Bowser battles that shirk the “make Bowser crack through the floor” in favor of playing like the Bowser battles in Mario 1, only with Mario 3 physics? Sure. That’s way cool. Hey, Mario 3 DIDN’T do that, so it must have taken effort to include it here and make it feel totally convincing and not janky.

Instead of an axe at the end of the bridge, it’s a P-Switch, which is a lot more Mario-ish than an axe anyway so I’ll allow it. But, as impressive as it is that a convincing version of the Bowser battles from Mario 1 are here in a game built with Mario 3’s engine, it’s also a stark reminder how far boss battles have come in the four decades since. Fighting Bowser in Mario 1 is just not fun. Period.

Let me be clear about something: I was very impressed by the professionalism of Mario Mix. It never feels at all like a ROM hack. It feels like what Nintendo is doing right now with Mario Kart 8: re-releasing old stuff with the new game’s physics as DLC. If Super Mario Bros. 3 had come out for the very first time in 2020, this feels like something Nintendo would up-sell for it in 2022. Some people want that. Some people want to have pool cues shoved up their asses and broken off for sexual pleasure. I don’t understand those people, and I don’t understand people who want to play the same shit over and over.

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Then, I realized I didn’t capture enough screenshots for my write-up, and I had some down time, so after finishing the previous three games, I decided “I should at least finish World 2, to play this Mario 2 as Mario 3 train-wreck out.” While it didn’t get better, because the two game styles just simply are not compatible, no matter what, even with all the effort in the world and the best of intentions, I wanted to finish it. And then Birdo showed up, and it wasn’t simply like a reskin of a Koopa Kid or something. It felt just like the Birdo fight from Mario 2, ONLY IF that had never happened and Birdo had started in Mario 3 all along. It felt good! It worked! It was fun! It was even fresh, somehow! Did it breathe interest into the game? Not at all. I was still like “yea, really good boss fight, but I still have to play levels to get there.”

Mouser shows up too! And yes, HIS FIGHT IS BETTER TOO! He throws Bob-Ombs at you that you have to throw back and he jumps back and forth between platforms. It’s not a slouch. I had a lot of people tell me the Koopalings being cinches to defeat didn’t matter, but you know what? Mario Mix has some genuinely difficult bosses. BUT, what’s really impressive about Mario Mix’s boss fights is, unlike many ROM hacks, you can’t see the “seams” of where they modified existing stuff within the game code to create a slightly new thing. For the life of me, I can’t imagine what existing Mario 3 things the bosses were built out of to play as well and as new feeling and fresh as they do.

Then Wart showed up as the final boss of World 2.

Fucking WART!

And, it felt great! Unlike the Birdo fight, this one didn’t try to be a 100% 1-to-1 copy of the feel of the battle from Mario 2. The “feed him to beat him” mechanic didn’t carry-over (I assume they wanted to but couldn’t make it work), so while Wart uses the same pattern of spitting bubbles from Mario 2, the way you hit him (throwing enemies at him) is different, AND THEN once you hit him, a whole-new attack cycle is added. It made the whole thing feel fresh, new, and SO FUN! I was totally impressed by the effort. Zero jank. Totally professional, and very creative. THIS IS HOW YOU DO A TRIBUTE, I thought. And, it was also the turning point.

Wart’s battle is a joy to play. I mean, tough too, but not punishingly difficult. So many ROM hacks fall into the trap of “make hardest, most GOTCHA!-riddled Mario levels possible” (see also Mario Maker). Every level in Mix is balanced and fine-tuned for proper difficult scaling on a level that would be the envy of most professional developers. Only ONE TIME the entire game did a bullshit GOTCHA! get me and I’m not even entirely sure it was a deliberate thing.

Once you get past World 2, Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix becomes a candidate for the greatest video game ever made.

Not greatest ROM hack.

Not greatest Mario game.

GREATEST VIDEO GAME!

It just never takes its foot off the gas from that point on. Everything after World 2 feels fresh, new, polished, professional, and incredible! Every single level is a joy. It’s still, at heart, a tribute to Mario’s platform games, but it’s so much more. Mario Mix captures what makes the Super Mario series fun, and cuts out almost all the garbage. It’s like the best the gameplay style can do, over and over and over and over and over, for hours. There’s so much content, and so many surprises. It’s why I can’t excuse the Koopalings for other ROM Hacks, because they’re not here. There’s original bosses here, somehow done in the Mario 3 engine that feel nothing like anything in Mario 3, that are so fun to play. It PAYS TRIBUTE to games like Mario Land, Mario Land 2, Mario Sunshine, and even Mario Galaxy while feeling completely original, and it’s AWESOME!!

Yep, that’s Yoshi! You know, I once played a homebrew of Mario World on the NES (I think it was a Chinese bootleg) and it was horrible, especially using Yoshi. Here, Yoshi plays REALLY well, though not perfect. The eating enemy mechanic feels spot-on. But, dismounting him for super jumps is significantly more difficult to do, to the point that it’s literally the only reminder you’re actually playing a ROM hack and not a big-budget, massive development team first-party Nintendo Mario 3 expansion pack.

Mario Mix is perfection, and a big part of that is the discipline the developer showed with pacing. Hell, you don’t even get some of the suits Mario can use until very late in the main quest. It’s like the opposite of Mario Adventure, where the Magic Mario Suit just totally kills the tension and excitement dead. The powers here, like the Penguin Suit and the Boomerang Suit are teased in the menu on the map screen, but you don’t get them until later (in the case of the Boomerang suit, MUCH later) and they’re balanced and fun when you finally do. You might be better off with a Fire Flower than the boomerangs. You might want to be a Racoon instead of a penguin in some levels. Even the real Mario 3 didn’t do that stuff right. Once you get the Hammer Bros. Suit, the game’s more or less over. Not here.

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Mario Mix is not without issue. Tributes to the ghost houses from Mario World are here, but they suffer from horrific slowdown. Some emulators can eliminate that, but if you play on one that can’t, you might be stuck playing close to whole levels in slow motion. World 8 – 1 had me briefly worried Mario Mix had lost the plot when it reverted to Mario 1 level copying, especially when it had so much slowdown that is wasn’t enjoyable at all. Thankfully, hardware problems to that degree didn’t crop up again, and the levels that followed righted the ship. In fact, that’s my only major complaint. Well, besides the fact that the maybe-greatest-game-ever doesn’t show up until you reach the boss of World 2.

UPDATE MAY 31, 2022: Actually, slowdown seems to crop up a bit more often in the after-the-main-quest Comet challenges, sometimes brutally so. There’s more than enough content in the main game to justify my lovesick puppy shit you’re seeing in this feature, but in fairness, I got that part wrong. Slowdown is all over the bonus material and somewhat muffles the fun. Oh, not ruins it. This is the first NES game I’ve ever played that I’m going for a 100% completion on.

This is why Episode 3 of Mod Complex will be a while: after I finish writing this, I’m going back to Mario Mix right away to 100% it. I only found one single access point to World 0, the hidden bonus world, and I want MORE! And even this doesn’t scratch the surface of all the extra content the developers included beyond the main quest. This thing is overstuffed with entertaining diversions and extras.

Worlds 3 – 8 though? Wow. Just.. wow! Never dull, never boring, consistently surprising, often creative, and ALWAYS fun. And that’s why anyone should be playing games. Honestly, they’d never do it, but Nintendo should just buy Mario Mix and slap a $50 tag on it. It’s that good. It’s got that much value in it. When you beat the game, a second quest pops up that adds the comet challenges from Mario Galaxy to most of the levels. There’s secrets all over Mario Mix, including the Mario World concept of some levels having multiple exits. There’s a whole secret world that I’ve only played one level of thus far, but that level, like most others in Mix, was excellent. This is the rare 8-bit game that I’ve beaten the final boss of (a pretty good, but not spectacular, twist on the “let Bowser break through the floor” fight at the end of Mario 3) and I’m going to keep playing for a while yet. I want to find all the secrets. I want to do all the comet challenges. I want to score a 100%, and I’ll never be bored doing it. Hell, even those World 1 and 2 levels that I was not in love with, with the inclusion of the comet challenges, now I am.

I thought I’d seen it all, but then a world that’s a tribute to Mario Galaxy shows up, complete with crazy gravity effects, and it’s everything you want a 2D Mario Galaxy to be. The gravity works. The level design built around it works. It’s unbelievable. As in I literally do not believe this game exists. I’m in a coma in some hospital somewhere and this is my coma dream, right?

Here we are, almost eleven full years into my Indie Gamer Chick existence, and the best indie I’ve ever played is a ROM hack of Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s better than any 2D Mario game Nintendo has ever made. It might be the best Mario game of all-time, period (though, did really love Mario Odyssey, so I have to think about it a LONG time). Hell, it might be the best video game I’ve ever played. Mario Ultimate left me in tears of joy, but Mario Mix left in tears of pure euphoria because I’d had such an incredible time and I wasn’t even remotely done with it yet. I can’t put it #1 on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. It would be weird, when this is.. in polite terms.. a grey-area, but for now, whatever is ranked #1 (currently Dead Cells) will have an asterisk on it, because some guy and his siblings took the already stupendous Super Mario Bros. 3, tinkered around with it, and turned in this: Mario’s finest hour. Get it here.

And only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of Mario fans will ever play it, let alone know about it.

Heartbreaking, huh?

And I’m finally done with episode two. MARIO MIX COMET PURPLE COIN CHALLENGES, HERE I COME!!

Shadow of the Colossus: Slaying the Test of Time

Most of the this is spoiler-free. There’s a spoiler section I marked-off.

I don’t think it’s particularly mind-blowing to call Shadow of the Colossus the greatest video game ever made. It’s been called as much by people much better at this stuff than myself. Having just replayed it for a fourth time, I’m now totally comfortable saying that, yes, Shadow of the Colossus has no peer in gaming. It’s the GOAT: the greatest of all-time. It checks every box. It scratches every itch. Some titles do aspects of gaming better, but no game does so much of everything as well as Shadow of the Colossus. Is it my favorite game? Probably not, as Shadow of the Colossus didn’t tunnel into the pleasure center of my brain quite as much as my replay of Super Mario Odyssey did earlier this year. But, I think what Mario Odyssey accomplished (the ultimate perfecting of 3D mascot platforming) was much less significant than what Shadow of the Colossus has done: absolutely murder the test of time. Don’t get me wrong: I can totally get how someone would not like SOTC at all. A game that boils down to riding around a vast, barren map to fight giants in a series of jumping puzzles is not going to fire everyone up. I’ll even take it a step further: the concept of Shadow of the Colossus sounds boring.

WELL, IT DOES!

The PlayStation 4 re-release includes “filters” that allow you to do things like change the game to a nighttime setting. It’s smoke and mirrors as you’ve really just changed the shading and color palette, but it does undoubtedly make for some epic horse rides.

Take literally any flagship game, remove all enemies and goals and leave only the levels and bosses, and what would you have? Imagine the first Legend of Zelda on the NES. Now, twist the game by giving Link the sword AND the bow with unlimited arrows to start. Now take Hyrule, the exact same map and all nine dungeons, and then remove EVERYTHING from it. All traps. All keys. All enemies. All items. All locked doors but the entrance to Death Mountain. Make it so any place unreachable without items is now reachable via, say, a land-bridge or something. All hidden paths to bosses are also removed and replaced with a direct path, so you’re not warping around the dungeons but rather walking through a series of rooms until you reach the boss chamber. Thus, the only thing left in this new Legend of Zelda are the bosses in front of the rooms with each-Triforce piece. Any bosses that previously needed another weapon now can be beaten by the sword. Arrows can damage them, but the final blow must be struck with the sword. Oh, and the sword beam is also removed. Once you beat a boss and collect the Triforce piece, you’re returned to the starting screen where you got the sword & bow.

Are you picturing all this?

Good. Now, go get all eight Triforce pieces and rescue Princess Zelda from Ganon.

Does this game sound like something that would be fun to do?

In my youth, I never cared for sightseeing. Now that I’m in my 30s, I find myself taking time to just stare at things. I think that’s a big reason why my 4th replay of Shadow of the Colossus felt so grand.

Well, that’s the pitch Shadow of the Colossus makes to players. It sounds terminally boring. It’s Punch-Out if you had to walk around an empty city for five-to-twenty minutes between every fight (that won’t be the only time I compare Shadow of the Colossus to this). I don’t think I’d like Punch-Out if you had to do that. I’d certainly not go back to it just for fun. So, yea, Shadow of the Colossus is a weird pitch to gamers right out of the gate. Not only that, but the pitch comes with expressions and terminology that make it sound like some fart-sniffing art house thing.

“IT’S ABSTRACT!”

“IT’S SYMBOLIC!”

“IT’S MINIMALIST!”

“IT’S OPEN TO INTERPRETATION!”

These are things a lot of people do not like and want no part of. And no, it’s not just jock-sniffing dude-bros who scoff at that type of thing. There’s people who spend their whole lives grinding through Final Fantasy games or Zelda or Skyrim or any other big tentpole release who are simply not interested in “art house” games. Pitching them on the merits of such a title’s gameplay is particularly tough. Trust me. I’ve spent nearly three years now telling anyone who will listen that Gris, an artsy-fartsy indie that’s actually about overcoming grief and is just a touch pretentious about it, is also a truly fantastic platforming experience with rock-solid controls and outstanding level design (well, if you ignore the first level). Some people are just not interested in taking the risk because it looks like and sounds like something that would bore them. In the case of Shadow of the Colossus, it’s not so much the gameplay of fighting the Colossi that sounds boring. It’s how you experience it. The world of the Forbidden Lands is also given no backstory beyond being “cursed” and is filled with temples and glyphs in a language created for the game that means nothing. A lot of people just want a story and a game to go along with it. Remove the mysticism, spooky made-up language, and empty world and you’ve got Cuphead: a boss rush where a deity tells you to go fight larger enemies sold on the merits of its cutting edge graphics that is still never going to appeal as widely as a “mainstream game” but people just have to try it out. Nobody has to try Shadow of the Colossus. If anything, it’s almost unapproachable.

Well, I’m going to try. This is my pitch to those who have been holding out on playing Shadow of the Colossus.

#1: SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS IS *SO* SCARY

The Forbidden Lands of Shadow of the Colossus are my choice for the greatest world in any video game, with Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker a very distant second. It’s a world that’s so ancient that it’s actually primordial, but NEVER alien.

In “What Makes Horror Horrifying?” author Elizabeth Barrette postulates that horror is dependent on our evolutionary fight-or-flight response. The setting of Shadow of the Colossus assures you’re consistently in that state of mind. It has pitch-perfect timing of when to take the camera away from the player and show off the architecture of the area you just entered and let you know that you’ve arrived in the lair of a Colossus. You’re given a spooky musical cue that’s every bit as beautiful as it is foreboding. By time the beast has appeared, the player will have already been so affected just by the suspense that you’re going to need a moment to gather your wits.. a moment Shadow of the Colossus will rarely will give you. It’s something Nemesis from Resident Evil 3 wanted to accomplish but never quite achieved, and yet, a game that nobody would ever call a horror game perfected that sensation to a science.

Shadow of the Colossus will be even more scary for those people with more specific phobias. My irrational fear is of large bodies of water and sea monsters, called THALASSOPHOBIA. Shadow of the Colossus exploits this to perfection with a boss that I dreaded fighting so much I found myself staring at the water for a couple minutes, knowing that a battle would commence as soon as I jumped in. A battle I’d fought three times previous, that had no surprises left to offer. This fight is that scary for me.

It’s a misnomer to say the world of Shadow of the Colossus is totally empty. There’s some scattered wildlife, including lizards, birds, butterflies, etc. Sure, the game is devoid of big game animals (it wouldn’t have killed them to throw a few deer or bears or something into the mix), but the world feels occupied by more than just the Colossi. It creates this eerie unease that feels straight out of Silent Hill. Like any horror game, the first time you play Shadow of the Colossus will always be the most potently spooky. Until the moment the camera is taken from you, you never know when you might be entering the arena of a Colossi. Often, you’re clearly shown the battlefield ahead of time (which is also a clever way of letting players know they didn’t take a wrong turn on their way there), and it’s framed as ominously as possible. In fact, the best music in the game, in my opinion, are always the pieces of music that accompany those cut-aways that show off the lairs. Although the battle rarely begins when you’re not expecting it, it’s often more suspenseful than most games I’ve played that are actually designed to be scary. The gaming embodiment of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous Bomb Theory. You can startle anyone for a quick jump scare, but suspense creates fear that lingers. I don’t know if Shadow of the Colossus is as suspenseful as the commonly held champion of gaming suspense: Silent Hill 2. But, that it’s even up for debate is a truly remarkable achievement for a game in this genre.

In reality, the 6th Colossus is one of the easier battles in the game. Yet, everything that goes into the battle makes it absolutely pants-wetting. The setting is so dark and ominous. The speed at which it moves is a touch faster than any previous Colossi. The camera pulls away to show that it’s closing in on you, which is one of the only times in any game I’ll allow cinematic design over game design. You’ll almost certainly have had a moment where you came inches from being splattered by its club. Again, the battle itself is among the most simple in the game, which is great! It proves it’s not what you do, but how you do it. Shadow of the Colossus is a great roadmap for aspiring developers everywhere.

Without ever once claiming so, Shadow of the Colossus is a legitimate contender of the scariest game ever made. More than once I screamed out-loud when I thought I had distance between me and whatever I was battling, only to see its weapon crash down upon me. Most impressively: none of the scares or tension rely on the story itself. You might find the god Dormin to be creepy, or be unnerved by “hero” Wander’s slow transformation into something other-humanly, but neither of those aspects come even come close to the chilling sensation of just swimming in a lake while a bird-like Colossus is perched in the background.. simply.. watching.. you. Even the one Colossus that doesn’t attack you, a different majestic flying creature that’s actually the largest in the entire game, moves with this ethereal locomotion that is so creepy that you’re certain to get goosebumps.

The second of the two “small” colossi is actually one of the scarier bosses. Instead of Hitchcock, it feels more like Leatherface or Jason Voorhees. It just doesn’t let-up, and the thrill of being chased by it as you desperately seek high ground NEVER cools-off for the entire opening-sequence of what is surprisingly a prolonged battle.

Then, you have the battles themselves. The imagery is often overwhelming and terrifying. This giant thing is lumbering towards you, and you’re so very, very small. If you find yourself directly next to one, you can literally feel the weight of its feet as they lift in preparation to crush you. At their core, action games are based around overwhelming odds, but no game makes you feel out-matched and under-powered like Shadow of the Colossus. Of course, once you figure out how to slay the beast, the opposite is true: you feel powerful and strong. This is accomplished without gaining stronger items, or being told by the game how you’re the hero of destiny. It’s simply a feeling of empowerment that overcomes you. That’s you’ve survived the horror, and it’s more satisfying than any actual survival horror game has ever been for me, let alone any action game.

Wow.

Shout out to the soundtrack. It’s not just the greatest in gaming history, but the greatest soundtrack EVER, period. The closest any movie comes to topping it is the original Star Wars.

#2: SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS IS *SO* VIOLENT

As a fan and practitioner of violence, I love video game violence. It’s just so much more.. legal. You’d think a game that involves stabbing the majority of your enemies in the head and then watching their life essence spurt out, Kill Bill-style would widely be considered among the most viscerally violent games ever. But nobody talks about how incredibly violent Shadow of the Colossus is. I’ve never been a person who did the whole sitcom-style “Body English” when I play games, where you pantomime the movement of the controller. BUT, when I play Shadow of the Colossus, I’m letting out barbarian-like screams every time I thrust the sword into the craniums of the my enemies. I’m not even sure why I’m doing it, except that I’m so immersed that I just instinctively yell. But, I’m not alone. Lots of people have that reaction playing Shadow of the Colossus. It’s so violent that it’s almost primal.

But, violence alone would get boring. Hey look, I love what Mortal Kombat has become. It puts a smile on my face that MK is now so grotesque that it makes even the most hard-assed among us become physically ill. But that’s violence that’s cartoonish. I mean seriously, when Cassie Cage knocks a person’s jaw off and then takes a selfie with it, you half expect Porky Pig to pop up and say THAT’S ALL, FOLKS! (Hey, Warner does own Mortal Kombat, so this might actually happen at some point!) After a while, it’s just kind of silly. I mean seriously, who gives a shit if Johnny Cage turns the corpse of his opponent into a ventriloquist dummy in a game where the non-fatality X-Ray moves would, in fact, kill you in several different ways. Cathartic? Maybe. Pointless? Oh yeah.

I don’t feel bad about killing Colossus #11, AKA this pathetic little thing. Even though it’s the only Colossi that literally cowers in fear away from the player at times. I found myself shouting “FUCK YOU FOR BEING SO SMALL AND DISAPPOINTING!” as I put my sword through its heart. I have a theory that I haven’t heard anywhere else: that Colossi #11 and #14 (the other smaller Colossus) were originally going to be a single battle where you fought both at the same time. Then, one of the many deleted Colossi that went far into development got removed at the last second and they needed to split the two up to keep the battle count at sixteen. My evidence: (1) they’re roughly the same size. (2) They look very similar. (3) The code name for the 14th Colossus was “Cerberus” which is the mythical multi-headed dog. #14 is NOT multi-headed, but maybe it metaphorically would have been if I’m right. The evidence against: (1) It has never come up after all these years despite tons of behind-the-scenes information about SOTC being put out there. If it were true, it sure seems like the type of thing they’d want people to know. (2) There actually was going to be a few other smaller Colossi that also got deleted. I’m still sorta leaning towards this originally being one fight against two Colossi, on the basis that it’s the only boss archetype the game is lacking. EDIT: Well, except fighting a clone of yourself.

In Shadow of the Colossus, the violence is nauseating for different reasons. You’re invading the space of creatures that want nothing to do with you, and you’re systematically ending their lives. Even fans of the game feel unclean when they hunt down what is basically a harmless cross between a flying serpent and a whale, shoot its air-sacks out one at a time, then mount it and begin stabbing it to death. The entire time, this creature never fights back. It has no attack. It’d be like if someone made a realistic whaling simulator, complete with old-timey harpoons. I don’t think I’d want to play that game. If the beasts of Shadow of the Colossus were more life-like, I think it’d have a lot less fans just because of how brutal the act of slaying is. You’re not performing cartoonish fatalities. You’re violently murdering things that have done you no wrong. Since that’s the object of the game, you’d think it’d be a massive turnoff. But, actually, it’s really thought-provoking. The symbolism of Wander being stripped of his humanity as he continues to slay these majestic beasts is among the most powerful metaphors any game has ever had. That image doesn’t work if Shadow of the Colossus isn’t amazingly, breathtakingly violent. And I mean that in a good way. Yet, nobody thinks of it as a violent game, and I think that should be a bigger part of the discussion.

#3: SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS ISN’T *THAT* UNIQUE OR WEIRD

Some people hear things like “minimalist story” and or “art” and think Shadow of the Colossus is so outside their wheelhouse that they could never get into it. That’s one of the more common complaints I hear. While that might still be true of you no matter what, let me postulate that Shadow of the Colossus is about as old-school-arcadey as any major sword-based action game has been in this century. You could skip every single cut-scene and still appreciate how stunning and rewarding the gameplay is.

Some of the boss fights, majestic as they can be, are downright cliched. “Welp, we’re fighting bosses. Gotta have one or two in the water. Gotta have one or two in the air. Gotta have a giant turtle. Gotta have a giant lizard that walks on walls..” I’m genuinely stunned there’s not one giant crab monster to be found. There would have been a giant spider, but it got deleted.

I’m not the first person to notice that the closest one-to-one analog with SOTC is Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! series. The comparison is much closer than it would seem. You’re a smaller person fighting a series of larger opponents. The entire object of the game is to study your opponent’s patterns and search for an opening to counter-attack. It’s not just a cutesy comparison, either. They really feel like very, very close cousins. The first time you take down any fighter/Colossi, it feels like a major accomplishment. As you get deeper in the game, the opponents become craftier and you have to rethink everything you think you know works. The final fights feature enemies so overwhelmingly destructive and seemingly invincible that you’re left feeling genuinely hopeless, to the point that any progress, even the act of just avoiding being damaged, feels like an accomplishment. While I’m not totally sure taking down the final Colossi in Shadow of the Colossus is as big a “HOLY SHIT, I DID IT!” moment as taking down Mike Tyson/Mr. Dream for the first time (but it’s certainly a bigger moment than beating Nick Bruiser from Super Punch-Out!! or Mr. Sandman from Punch-Out!! on the Wii), that final moment of world-conquering disbelief is almost unique to Shadow of the Colossus/Punch-Out. Not a “hooray, I beat the game!” moment, but rather “I can’t believe I did it!”

And after the game, you open up a time attack mode that eventually opens your eyes to different methods and strategies you’d never even thought of in the heat of those original battles. If Nintendo and Sony ever patch up their differences, I’d love to see a cross-over game, where Little Mac scales Colossi and punches them to death. And let Wander stab Super Macho Man in the head with a sword while you’re at it, fellas.

And, as far as minimalism goes, um.. didn’t most of you come from a generation where stories in games were absurdly simple? Giant Turtle Dragon kidnaps princess. Go save princess. Swine Wizard steals triangle and princess. Seek other triangle so you can save princess. I kind of love Shadow of the Colossus because it’s not bogged down in plot. It’s not a Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid exposition dumpathon. The storytelling of Shadow of the Colossus is so incredibly grounded in classical gaming storytelling that it’s curiously refreshing. After the opening cut-scene, there’s like three extremely short interludes between being given your next assignment of living mountain to slay, and you lose nothing by skipping them. The majority of the story is given at the start and during the nearly half-hour ending sequence (that includes the post-game credits). As a storyteller, Shadow of the Colossus is practically 8-bit.

#4: THE STORY OF SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS IS *NOT* OPEN TO INTERPRETATION (UNLESS YOU REALLY NEED IT TO BE FOR SOME WEIRD REASON)

**SPOILER WARNING**

This is probably going to be the most controversial point, but the story of Shadow of the Colossus is not as abstract as people make out to be. While some aspects of character backgrounds aren’t spelled out, the plot, the morals, and especially the ending really aren’t open to interpretation. You’ll find people digging so much deeper than they need to, maybe because they don’t like the implications of the ending. But what it all means couldn’t be more clear:

  • Wander had some form of love for Mono. Their relationship or background together is inconsequential. Shadow of the Colossus never says they’re an item. He could be some nobody who was creeping on her and being rejected by her right up until she died. Or he could be her boyfriend. Or he could be her brother and they’re doing the Targaryen Mambo for all we know. It doesn’t matter. What matters is he’s a character so overwhelmed with grief that it makes him a useful idiot for the fallen god Dormin.
  • Wander explicitly knows everything he is doing is wrong, immoral, and in defiance of the laws of man and nature. Dormin even laughs at how brazen Wander is in his wish to restore Mono. And, during the ending, Lord Emon, who is some kind of leader in Wander’s society, says “so it was you after all” (who took the sword), which spells out as clear as possible that Wander had been warned against all of this. Yes, Emon says Wander has no idea what he’s done, but he still was strictly forbidden from doing anything to begin with.
  • Mono was sacrificed for a “cursed future.” Some especially dense people take “sacrificed” to mean any number of things that are basically the opposite of, you know, being sacrificed! “She may have been sick! That’s kind of like being cursed!” Yea. Uh huh. In a game with a cursed land, and a cursed God, and a hero who becomes progressively more monstrous in appearance.. CURSED if you will.. the girl might have been put to death because she caught chicken pox or something. Christ, some people are so thick that it hurts.
  • Dormin speaks with both a male and female voice throughout the game, until it takes control of Wander’s body. At this point, only the male voice speaks. The female voice is never heard again.
  • This one is the ballgame for interpretation in my opinion: when Mono wakes up, she’s not surprised to be alive, nor is she frightened, scared, or disoriented. She’s not surprised to see Agro the horse. She’s not surprised by her surroundings, and this in a game where the reactions to everything are made explicit. Even characters who show up for like five minutes during the ending are able to emote at what they see. This is called attention to specifically: people react to things in Shadow of the Colossus! Mono coming back from the dead in a strange place she’s never been to after being killed by her own people invokes absolutely no reaction. Weird that.

Yea, yea, the ending originally was going to have her touch the horse and have all the memories of Wander’s battles with the Colossi implanted into her.. which makes no goddamn sense since the horse wasn’t there for eleven of the sixteen fights, but whatever. Deleted scenes aren’t canon, and if you want proof, why are there only sixteen broken idols instead of twenty-six, since there’s at least ten deleted Colossi.

  • The only part of the Shrine of Worship she glances at is the hole in the ceiling that Dormin communicated to Wander through.
  • She’s really not surprised to find a goddamned horned baby in the well. She calmly walks over to it and picks up the unholy abomination, barely even exams it, and continues up to the secret garden. I think any rational person would make the surprised Pikachu face for at least a second or two. Nope, it’s almost like she knew the baby would be there.
  • Her and Agro then calmly walk up the ramp around the well and through a door that was inaccessible to the player-controlled Wander, then scale another ramp and enter a peaceful garden that provides plenty of food and friendly, delicious wildlife to last a lifetime. None of this is a surprise at all to her. She walks in like she owns the joint. Which she does, because it’s her shrine made to worship her.

I’m poo-pooing attempts at fan theories that fly in the face of the evidence you’re given, BUT, there’s for sure lots of symbolism in Shadow of the Colossus. Agro’s forehead has a mark that’s a perfect outline of the sigil that Wander wears on his cape, the same sigil that is the weak point of the Colossi. And lots of little details, like how when the statues blow up after each Colossus is defeated, their heads always remain perfectly intact, perhaps symbolizing how futile your efforts really are. In the words of a critic much better than me, you might not have noticed these things.. but your brain did.

So, yea, that’s not Mono anymore. It’s Dormin, or at least the feminine side of Dormin, holding the first horned child in the line that will eventually lead to the events of Ico. Now, whether or not she’s also the evil queen at the end of Ico is left open to the imagination. Well, no, it’s really not. Seriously, how is this even a debate?

“Wow, there’s a baby with horns now, and that’s it, the game is over. I wonder if this is somehow connected to the director’s only prior game, Ico? You know, the one with the boy named Ico who had horns on his head? Horns that are in the exact same position, coming out the side of the head, as the horns on this baby? And that game had an immortal evil queen who is basically a shadow by the point you fight her.. CURSED if you will.. and if that’s true that means this is a prequel, which would explain the CURSED FUTURE prophecy that was the thing that kicked off the plot of the entire game. Oh, and she had shadows for minions and is practically made of shadows herself and there were shadows in this game that were controlled by Dormin at the start of the game and shadows that were surrounding Wander at the end of this game and he becomes a giant shadow and the giant shadow identifies itself as Dormin but only using the male voice when it previously spoke with a male and female voice at the same time. COULD IT BE A PREQUEL TO ICO? I need a few hours to wonder if there’s some kind of connection or if this is a separate universe, and I need that long because I’m dimwitted.

Nah, I have to be open to the possibility that there might not be any connection between this game and the only other game that the same director did even though a baby with horns is an incredibly specific thing to visually end the game on, especially when it never factored into the entire story leading up to the ending sequence, where Wander now also has horns on his head that are called specific attention to, meaning the entire point of the fucking story I was just playing through was the birth of a horned baby in this game by a director who only had one previous game and that game was about a child with goddamned horns on his head. The director had literally infinite options of what Dormin/Wander being sucked into the well could leave behind, and the director’s choice was to leave a baby in the well with horns just like the hero of his one and only previous game to be the ending.. the whole point everything was leading up to.. of his second game. I’m an incredibly stupid person and also slow but I desperately need people to think I’m more clever than I am. I needed time to think really hard in my thinkin’ chair, and after careful consideration, I’ve decided it could be a coincidence and it’s all open to interpretation, because I’m as thick as a concrete milkshake. Derpdederpderp.”

Christ. This is how people can be presented with mountains of evidence on the moon landing and still believe it was a hoax. I can’t help but laugh that an attempt at throwing fans of Ico a bone by making a game that is so clearly a prequel didn’t work because fans of Ico have their interpreter heads so far up their interpreter asses that they feel they have to interpret differently the very thing they clamored so much. One of those situations where people shot the moon and became so invested in the idea of symbolism and “minimalism” that they became stupid for it. It’s actually hilarious!

**END OF SPOILERS**

MUST GO FASTER!!

Where else does all this “open to interpretation” shit come from? Well, I have a theory. I honestly think it’s because some really misguided people have heard that “all art is open to interpretation.” Shadow of the Colossus is the follow-up to Ico, a game that had a lot less story than Shadow of the Colossus. THAT is a game that actually does require a lot of filling-in-the-gaps via head-canon, and it’s also a game that people said was art house. Then comes the director’s next game, where enough specific information was given to players that a clear story with a very clear ending that goes far beyond a winking reference is released, but it’s the same art style and the same “less is more” approach to development. So, it’s another game that’s “art house” and since these window-lickers read somewhere once that “art is open to interpretation” they think they need to “interpret” the meaning of the story when it’s blasted right in their witless faces: the director had made only two games, and both had a very uniquely-specific visual. Because director Fumito Ueda didn’t put a giant neon arrow with the words DO YOU GET IT? at the end, people label it “open to interpretation.” And since “all art is open to interpretation” and they desperately need to be able to call Shadow of the Colossus, first and foremost, “art”, if it’s not open to interpretation, why, that must mean it’s not really art, right?

If a game needs to be “art” to be special, I hate to break this to the “open to interpretation” crowd, but Shadow of the Colossus is fucked. Why? Because ALL VIDEO GAMES ARE ART! Even the ones you don’t like. Shadow of the Colossus might be damn beautiful to look at it, but it’s hardly unique. Seriously, there’s lots of great looking games. There’s lots of games with unique graphical styles. Having little dialog and most of the story unfold visually instead of with words is not something unique about it. It’s perfectly okay to say Shadow of the Colossus is art. It certainly is. But, its greatness is in what it accomplishes, not something as superficially shallow as “it’s art!”

I interpret this as a prequel to Chibi Robo. Seriously, this boss looks like the malformed ancestor of Chibi-Robo. CAN’T BE UNSEEN! YOU’RE WELCOME!

#5: I WAS WRONG ABOUT SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS. SO VERY, *VERY* WRONG

From the time I first finished Shadow of the Colossus at the age of 16, I firmly believed the game had nothing left to offer me. I’ve never been one of those people who replays games endlessly. In fact, until recently, I never replayed linear games at all. Scoring-driven arcade type stuff? Sure. Games based around levels and plot and surprises? I never saw the point. Games aren’t the same as movies. They’re a time commitment that you have to pay attention to. In 2012, on this very blog, I named Shadow of the Colossus one of my ten favorite games ever, while also noting I wouldn’t ever play it again. This was a couple years after the PS3 re-release that came bundled with Ico. I was 23-years-old when I wrote that and the idea that I would ever become a nostalgic-type was unfathomable to me then. In the nine years since I wrote that, I’ve replayed Shadow of the Colossus twice. We all make liars out of our younger selves, don’t we?

The me that existed in 2010 would never believe the me of 2021 would begin playing fifth run through Shadow of the Colossus immediately after finishing my fourth run, but that’s what I’ve been doing all week.

But, it was a safe bet at the time. My second play-through of Shadow of the Colossus lacked the elements that made it so memorable. The sense of dread when I entered new lairs. The sense of wonder when I’d see a new Colossus for the first time (or, in the case of the two small-fry Colossi, seething disappointment). The sense of accomplishment when I figured out how to slay each one. Replacing the sense of awe was a magnifying glass focused on the many, many problems Shadow of the Colossus has. The controls, no matter what scheme you use, are unintuitive and often frustrating. The AI for horsey Agro leaves a lot to be desired, especially for how much she factors into a couple of the battles. Colossi battles can be less epic and more an exercise in frustration in how much they shake you off. And finally, once you no longer have any surprises left from the appearances of the Colossi, some of them just plain suck. Or, if not full-on suckage, they’re not “epic enough.” Like, the gecko Colossi, Kuromori, feels like it’d be the boss in the Zelda dungeon where you get the bow & arrow from the big chest. It wasn’t that the game wasn’t fun anymore, but rather the best thing it had to offer, the joy of discovery, was gone. My 2018 replaying of the PlayStation 4 remaster seemed to reaffirm that: still great, but the thrill was gone.

The first time I played Shadow of the Colossus, I was absolutely terrified to swim from the shore to the ramp of the third boss. That sensation is never coming back.. unless they do a proper sequel, or a remake that adds all the deleted bosses they wanted. Originally, there was going to be 48 Colossi, which got whittled down over and over until there was sixteen. I’m hoping the PS4 port is the final one that doesn’t add deleted content back into the game.

Then, something weird happened: I got an itch to play Shadow of the Colossus following my review of the dumpster fire that was Drizzlepath: Deja Vu. My Dad and kid sister had played Shadow together earlier this year, without any guidance or hints from me, and I got see that sense of discovery and splendor in someone else. It was kind of magical to see. Of course, that could never happen with me again. Not with this game. But, when I started playing it, this time with the mindset of “I know what to expect, I’ve been down this path before, so this is just a visit to an old friend”, I found myself once again dazzled. That incredible music. Those awe-inspiring vistas. That eeriness of the architecture. It ALL got me again. Even the sense of dread when I found myself ready to jump in a lake that I knew had a sea monster in it, or the spectacle of Colossi who can’t even fit on screen no matter how much distance you get from them. It got me. It got me good.

It felt like I’d come home.

No, the fear factor will never be as strong as it was before. Hell, I can even jump in the lakes with the sea monster Colossi now without taking a few minutes to shit my pants first. Colossus #15, pictured here, was once a battle so overwhelming that it took me over an hour to figure out. Now, I can take this thing down in a few minutes without breaking a sweat. And yet, I’m still having fun. That means something.

And so it was, at long last, that I discovered that the greatness in Shadow of the Colossus isn’t a one-and-done experience. I came to terms with how the controls, far from perfect, nonetheless allowed the job to be done. I accepted that a horse wouldn’t exactly be a cunning strategist in the heat of battle. I allowed myself to forgive the 11th Colossi for being such a massive disappointment, mostly because I got to enjoy the act of stabbing it right through its disappointing little heart. Sure, no replay will ever top that first time you finally scaled the sixteenth colossus and gave it the old ancient sword lobotomy. But.. what game is that true of? I’ve thought a lot about that this week, and I’m kind of miffed at myself. I was calling out Shadow of the Colossus specifically for a thing every game is actually guilty of. What I blamed it for doing in 2010 I’d never blame any game for today. I guess that’s part of growing-up. In fact, Shadow of the Colossus, even if you never scratch far past the surface, withstands the test of time better than almost any game of its kind out there. It’s really something special.

“Uh, hey Dormin, she’s starting to have a little funky smell about her. Could you maybe stop the rigor mortis from setting in? While we’re on the subject, she’s not going to try to eat my brains when she comes back from the dead, right? RIGHT? Dormin? Why are you snickering, Dormin?”

Best of all, if you want it to be deeper, it can be. That’s where the true greatness of Shadow of the Colossus lays: it’s a fill-in-the-blanks game. It whatever you need it to be. Seriously, it does everything short of Colossi Basketball. If you want intrigue, mystery, and mythology, it’s all here. A truly chilling horror experience? Shadow of the Colossus certainly qualifies. A sword and archery adventure for the ages? Yep, that too. A fuck-around sandbox with tons of stuff to do and see? Actually, yea, and in fact it does that even better than I figured. Do you like geocaching? Do you like hunting games? Do you like treasure hunts? The extra features (white-tailed lizards, fruit, and the new-to-the-PS4-version “enlightenment” coins) cover ALL those too! Shadow of the Colossus is a white knuckle adventure AND a resourceful action-puzzler. Or do you want arcade-like challenges within a specific time limit? Yea, the time attack covers you there. All of this in a game that’s both decidedly modern while also feeling remarkable retro in how it’s framed. It’s this incredible series of juxtapositions, all in a game that nobody in human history has ever defended the rough control scheme of. Shadow of the Colossus SHOULD be boring. It SHOULD have aged badly. It should not be incredible after sixteen years.

Instead, it’s the greatest of all-time. At least that’s my interpretation of it.

#IGCvSNES Leaderboard & Database: UPDATED November 7, 2021

LEADERBOARD

Total Games: 194
YES: 88 – 45.36%
NO: 106 – 54.63%
TERMINATOR LINE: #88 (Killer Instinct) over #89 (Super Star Wars)
Click each game to go to its #IGCvSNES thread on Twitter.

  1. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble
  2. Super Metroid
  3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  4. Tetris Attack
  5. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
  6. Terranigma
  7. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
  8. Super Mario World
  9. Super Castlevania IV
  10. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  11. Super Punch-Out!!
  12. Chorno Trigger
  13. Sutte Hakkun
  14. Parodius
  15. Zombies Ate my Neighbors
  16. Aladdin
  17. Mega Man 7
  18. TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure
  19. Kirby’s Dream Course
  20. Donald Duck no Mahō no Bōshi
  21. Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics
  22. Gokujō Parodius!
  23. Kirby’s Super Star Stacker
  24. Jikkyo Oshaberi Parodius
  25. Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City
  26. Demon’s Crest
  27. Illusion of Gaia
  28. Nankoku Shōnen Papuwa-kun
  29. Donkey Kong Country
  30. Super Bomberman 3
  31. The Addams Family
  32. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
  33. Castlevania: Dracula X
  34. Tetris 2
  35. SimCity
  36. Porky Pig’s Haunted Holiday
  37. Batman Returns
  38. The Firemen
  39. Hameln no Violin Hiki
  40. The Lost Vikings
  41. Brain Lord
  42. Biker Mice from Mars
  43. Yoshi’s Safari
  44. Goof Troop
  45. F-Zero
  46. Super Bonk
  47. DoReMi Fantasy
  48. Kirby Super Star
  49. Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge
  50. Battle Clash
  51. Mario Paint
  52. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts
  53. Popeye: Ijiwaru Majo Seahag no Maki
  54. NHL ’94
  55. ActRaiser
  56. Super Bomberman 2
  57. Tin Star
  58. Mario’s Super Picross/NP Picross Vol 1 – 8
  59. The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse
  60. Tetris & Dr. Mario
  61. Spanky’s Quest
  62. Sparkster
  63. Super Genjin 2 (Super Bonk 2)
  64. Joe & Mac
  65. Power Soukoban
  66. NBA Hangtime
  67. The Legend of the Mystical Ninja
  68. Super Street Fighter II
  69. Wrecking Crew ’98
  70. Super Mario Kart
  71. Rockman & Forte (Mega Man & Bass)
  72. Plok
  73. Arkanoid: Doh It Again
  74. The Pagemaster
  75. Little Magic
  76. Speedy Gonzales: Los Gatos Bandidos
  77. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition
  78. Super Scope 6
  79. GS Mikami: Joreishi wa Nice Body (Ghost Sweeper)
  80. Street Fighter Alpha 2
  81. WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game
  82. Mario & Wario
  83. Cacoma Knight in Bizyland
  84. Kirby’s Avalanche
  85. Smart Ball
  86. Knights of the Round
  87. Pilotwings
  88. Killer Instinct
    **TERMINATOR LINE**
  89. Super Star Wars
  90. Earthbound
  91. Super Bomberman
  92. Inspector Gadget
  93. Go! Go! Ackman
  94. The Adventures of Batman & Robin
  95. E.V.O.: The Search for Eden
  96. The Flintstones: The Treasure of the Sierra Madrock
  97. Super Smash TV
  98. Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken
  99. Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose
  100. Mega Man X
  101. Toy Story
  102. Battle Cross
  103. Out of This World
  104. Congo’s Caper
  105. 3 Ninjas Kick Back
  106. Addams Family Values
  107. Batman: Revenge of the Joker
  108. Taz-Mania
  109. Kirby’s Dream Land 3
  110. Wordtris
  111. Magical Pop’n
  112. Krusty’s Super Fun House
  113. Battletoads/Double Dragon
  114. Clock Tower
  115. Beavis & Butthead
  116. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
  117. Pac-in-Time
  118. Star Fox
  119. King of the Dragons
  120. Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run
  121. Ken Griffey Jr. presents Major League Baseball
  122. Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
  123. Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
  124. Wolfenstein 3D
  125. Sunset Riders
  126. Mickey Mania
  127. Super Tekkyu Fight!
  128. Cool Spot
  129. Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally
  130. Doom
  131. Super Adventure Island II
  132. Home Alone
  133. Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill
  134. Disney’s Bonkers
  135. The Jungle Book
  136. The Itchy & Scratchy Game
  137. Indiana Jones: Greatest Adventures
  138. The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang
  139. The Lion King
  140. U.N. Squadron
  141. Spindizzy Worlds
  142. Godzilla: Kaijuu Daikessen
  143. Vegas Stakes
  144. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie
  145. Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium
  146. Hagane
  147. Super 3D Noah’s Ark
  148. Pinocchio
  149. Bubsy II
  150. Super Adventure Island
  151. Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure
  152. Pac-Attack
  153. Final Fight 2
  154. Final Fight 3
  155. Final Fight & Final Fight Guy
  156. Bugs Bunny Rabbit Rampage
  157. Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel
  158. Super Back to the Future II
  159. Ghoul Patrol
  160. Animaniacs
  161. Super Godzilla
  162. Captain Commando
  163. Scooby-Doo Mystery
  164. Star Fox 2
  165. ActRaiser 2
  166. Equinox
  167. Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow
  168. Super Bomberman 4
  169. X-Zone
  170. Bazooka Blitzkrieg
  171. Daffy Duck: The Marvin Missions
  172. Wayne’s World
  173. Saban’s Power Rangers Zeo: Battle Racers
  174. DinoCity
  175. Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind
  176. The Addams Family: Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt
  177. Virtual Bart
  178. The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare
  179. Operation Thunderbolt
  180. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
  181. Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures
  182. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs
  183. The Flintstones
  184. T2: The Arcade Game
  185. Space Ace
  186. Disney’s Beauty & The Beast
  187. Dragon’s Lair
  188. Go! Go! Ackman 2
  189. Batman Forever
  190. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
  191. Shaq-Fu
  192. Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3D
  193. The Adventures of Mighty Max
  194. Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball

#IGCvSNES Lineup Order

Beginning November 2, 2020
Donate to Direct Relief. One game = $10. Three games = $20.
Check the hashtag #IGCvSNES on Twitter
Click the Game’s Title for its #IGCvSNES thread.
Click the Game’s YES/NO PILE Status for IGC’s Mini-Review

COMPLETED

SESSION #1
Brain Lord YES PILE
Super Adventure Island NO PILE
Goof Troop YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #2
Super Godzilla NO PILE
Super Bonk YES PILE
WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Super Genjin 2 (Super Bonk 2) YES PILE
BONUS GAME
: Godzilla: Kaijuu Daikessen NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #3
The Lost Vikings YES PILE
Spanky’s Quest YES PILE
Street Fighter Alpha 2 YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Super Street Fighter II YES PILE
*Note: No more Street Fighter 2s for #IGCvSNES

ONE HOUR SESSION #1
Scooby-Doo Mystery NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #4
Zombies Ate my Neighbors YES PILE
Sunset Riders NO PILE
Sparkster YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Ghoul Patrol NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #5
Illusion of Gaia YES PILE
Spindizzy Worlds NO PILE
Popeye: Ijiwaru Majo Seahag no Maki YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #6
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time YES PILE
U.N. Squadron NO PILE
Demon’s Crest YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #7
Hagane NO PILE
Super Adventure Island II NO PILE
Super 3D Noah’s Ark NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Doom NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Wolfenstein 3D NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #8
SimCity YES PILE
The Legend of the Mystical Ninja YES PILE
Vegas Stakes NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #9
Mario & Wario YES PILE
Mickey Mania NO PILE
Wrecking Crew ’98 YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Star Fox NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Star Fox 2 NO PILE
CANCELLED DUE TO EPILEPSY CONCERNS: Uniracers

THREE HOUR SESSION #10
Final Fight 2 NO PILE
NHL ’94 YES PILE
Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium NO PILE
BONUS GAME(s): Final Fight & Fight Fight Guy NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Final Fight 3 NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #11
King of the Dragons NO PILE
Jikkyo Oshaberi Parodius YES PILE
Terranigma YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Knights of the Round YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Captain Commando NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Parodius YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Parodius: Fantastic Journey YES PILE

SUPER MARIO WORLD 30TH ANNIVERSARY BONUS
Super Mario World YES PILE
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest YES PILE
F-Zero YES PILE

ONE HOUR SESSION #2
ActRaiser 2 NO PILE
BONUS GAME: ActRaiser YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #12
Mario Paint YES PILE
Pac-in-Time NO PILE
Aladdin YES PILE
BONUS GAME(s): Mario’s Super Picross/NP Picross Vol 1 – 8 YES PILE

ONE HOUR SESSION #3
Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #13
Bubsy II NO PILE
Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3D NO PILE
Disney’s Bonkers NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #14
SmartBall YES PILE
Indiana Jones: Greatest Adventures NO PILE
Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel NO PILE
BONUS GAME: NBA Hangtime YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #15 (Super Scope Session)
Super Scope 6 YES PILE
Yoshi’s Safari YES PILE
T2: The Arcade Game NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Battle Clash YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Bazooka Blitzkrieg NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Tin Star YES PILE
BONUS GAME: X-Zone NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Operation Thunderbolt NO PILE

POWER RANGERS MINI-MARATHON
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers NO PILE
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie NO PILE
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition YES PILE
Saban’s Power Rangers Zeo: Battle Racers NO PILE
Postponed: Gekisou Sentai Carranger (Failure to Load)

BONUS BENCHMARK SESSION
$1,600 RAISED BONUS GAME: Super Metroid YES PILE **CURRENT #1**
RESCUED FROM PURGATORY BONUS GAME: Super Mario Kart YES PILE
RESCUED FROM PURGATORY BONUS GAME: Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts YES PILE
CATHY NEEDED A BREAK BONUS GAME: Super Punch-Out YES PILE
RESCUED FROM PURGATORY BONUS GAME: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island YES PILE
$2,000 RAISED SPECIAL LOOK GAME: BS Zelda UNRANKED YES
RESCUED FROM PURGATORY BONUS GAME: Pilotwings YES PILE
RESCUED FROM PURGATORY BONUS GAME: Kirby’s Dreamland 3 NO PILE
RESCUED FROM PURGATORY BONUS GAME: Kirby Super Star YES PILE
$2,000 RAISED BONUS GAME: Kirby’s Super Star Stacker YES PILE
$2,000 RAISED BONUS GAME: Kirby’s Dream Course YES PILE
$2,000 RAISED BONUS GAME: Kirby’s Avalanche YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #16
Equinox NO PILE
E.V.O. Search for Eden NO PILE
Plok YES PILE
BONUS GAME: Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #17
The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang NO PILE*
Biker Mice from Mars YES PILE
Dino City NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #18
Clock Tower NO PILE
Hameln no Violin Hiki YES PILE
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest NO PILE
BONUS GAME: Mega Man X NO PILE

BONUS ALL-STARS SECTION
Chrono Trigger YES PILE
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #19
The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse YES PILE
Pitfall! The Mayan Adventure NO PILE
The Adventures of Mighty Max NO PILE

ONE HOUR SESSION #4
Cacoma Knight in Bizyland YES PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #20
Pop’n TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventures YES PILE
Magical Pop’n NO PILE
Sailor Moon: Another Story NO PILE

THREE HOUR SESSION #21
Super Back to the Future II NO PILE
The Firemen YES PILE
DoReMi Fantasy: Milon’s DokiDoki Adventure YES PILE


NON-SESSION PHASE

Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures NO PILE
The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare NO PILE
Virtual Bart NO PILE
The Itchy & Scratchy Game NO PILE
Krusty’s Super Fun House NO PILE
Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally NO PILE
Taz-Mania NO PILE
Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose NO PILE
Animaniacs NO PILE
Bugs Bunny Rabbit Rampage NO PILE
Daffy Duck: The Marvin Missions NO PILE
Speedy Gonzales: Los Gatos Bandidos YES PILE
Porky Pig’s Haunted Holiday YES PILE
The Addams Family YES PILE
The Addams Family: Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt NO PILE
Addams Family Values NO PILE
Cool Spot NO PILE
Beavis & Butthead NO PILE
Batman: Revenge of the Joker NO PILE **UNRELEASED PROTOTYPE**
Batman Returns YES PILE
Batman Forever NO PILE
The Adventures of Batman & Robin NO PILE
3 Ninjas Kick Back NO PILE
Donkey Kong Country YES PILE
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble YES PILE
Mario is Missing EDUCATIONAL GAME EXEMPT FROM VERDICT
Home Alone NO PILE
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York NO PILE
Shaq-Fu NO PILE
Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City YES PILE
Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball NO PILE
Wayne’s World NO PILE
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past YES PILE
Disney’s Beauty & The Beast NO PILE
The Pagemaster YES PILE
Joe & Mac YES PILE
Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics YES PILE
Congo’s Caper NO PILE
Inspector Gadget NO PILE
Super Castlevania IV YES PILE
Castlevania: Dracula X YES PILE
Out of this World (Another World) NO PILE
Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run NO PILE
Battletoads in Battlemaniacs NO PILE
Killer Instinct YES PILE
Battletoads/Double Dragon NO PILE
Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken NO PILE
Donald Duck no Mahō no Bōshi YES PILE
Pinocchio NO PILE
The Jungle Book NO PILE
Toy Story NO PILE
Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow NO PILE
Super Smash TV NO PILE
Super Star Wars NO PILE
Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back NO PILE
Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi NO PILE
Tetris & Dr. Mario YES PILE (Dr. Mario Solo Release NO PILE)
Tetris 2 YES PILE
Wordtris NO PILE
Pac-Attack NO PILE
Tetris Attack YES PILE
Earthbound NO PILE
Dragon’s Lair NO PILE
Space Ace NO PILE
Mega Man 7 YES PILE
Rockman & Forte (Mega Man & Bass) YES PILE
Arkanoid: Doh It Again YES PILE
Mr. Do! YES PILE (Not Ranked on Leaderboard)


STILL TO COME


Aerobiz Supersonic
Alien³
Arkanoid: Doh it Again
Art of Fighting 2
Axelay
Bahamut Lagoon
Bass Masters Classic Pro Edition
Battletoads & Double Dragon
Battletoads in Battlemaniacs
Beethoven
BlackThrone
Boogerman (Interplay Collection 1)
Bronkie The Bronchiasaurus
Brutal: Paws of Fury
Bulls vs. Blazers and the NBA Playoffs
Bushi Seiryūden: Futari no Yūsha
Captain Novolin
Chaos Seed: Fūsui Kairōki
Chuck Rock
Clay Fighter (Interplay Collection 1)
Clay Fighter 2 (Interplay Collection 2)
Claymates (Interplay Collection 2)
Cutthroat Island
Cybernator
Dennis the Menace
Disney’s Magical Quest 3 Starring Mickey & Donald
Dragon View (Piko 1)
Dragon’s Lair
Earth Defense Force (Jaleco Collection 1)
Earthbound
Earthworm Jim 2 (Interplay Collection 2)
Famicom Tantei Club Part II: Ushiro ni Tatsu Shōjo (Famicom Detective Club 2)
Fatal Fury Special
Final Fantasy IV (aka Final Fantasy 2 in the US)
Final Fantasy VI (aka Final Fantasy 3 in the US)
Fire Emblem: Thracia 776
Firepower 2000
Firestriker
Front Mission
Ganbare! Daiku no Gen-san
Gemfire
Gundam Wing: Endless Duel
Gunman’s Proof
Harvest Moon
Heracles no Eikō III: Kamigami no Chinmoku
Hong Kong ’97
Hook
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Volume One
Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S: Covert Action Teams
Judge Dredd
Jurassic Park
Kamen Rider
Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run
King Arthur’s World
King of Demons
King of the Monsters 2
Lady Stalker: Kako kara no Chōsen
Laplace no Ma (Laplace’s Demon)
Lemmings
Lester the Unlikely
Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals
Lufia: Fortress of Doom
Magic Sword
Magical Drop 2 (Data East Collection 1)
Magical Pop’n
Marvelous: Mōhitotsu no Takarajima
Mega Man 7
Mega Man Soccer
Metal Warriors
Mohawk & Headphone Jack
Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat 3
Mortal Kombat II
Mr. Do!
NBA Give ‘n Go
New Horizons
Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen
On the Ball/Cameltry
Paladin’s Quest
Phantom 2040
Pieces
Pinocchio
Pocky & Rocky
Populous
Prehistoric Man (Interplay Collection 2)
Prince of Persia
PTO: Pacific Theater of Operations
Q*Bert 3
Race Drivin’
Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon
Rise of the Robots
Robocop versus Terminator
Robotrek
Rock ‘n Roll Racing
Rocko’s Modern Life: Spunky’s Dangerous Day
Run Saber
Saturday Night Slam Masters
Secret of Mana
Shadowrun
Shin Nekketsu Kouha – Kunio-tachi no Banka
SimAnt
SimEarth
Skyblazer
Soccer Kid (Piko Interaction Collection 2)
SOS
Soul Blazer
Space Ace
Speed Racer
Spider-Man & X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge
Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage
Super Baseball 2020
Super Bomberman
Super Bomberman 2
Super Bomberman 3
Super Bomberman 4
Super Bomberman 5
Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Scrambled Valkyrie
Super Double Dragon (Technos Collection)
Super Empire Strikes Back
Super Famicom Wars
Super Gussun Oyoyo
Super Ninja Boy
Super Return of the Jedi
Super Robot Wars Gaiden
Super Star Wars
Super Tekkyu Fight!
Super Widget
Sutte Hakkun
Sutte Hakkun
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
Tecmo Super Bowl III: Final Edition
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters
The Flintstones
The Flintstones: The Treasure of Sierra Madrock
The Great Battle IV
The Great Circus Mystery starring Mickey & Minnie
The Humans (Piko Interactive Collection 1)
The Jetsons: Invasion of the Planet Pirates
The Pirates of Dark Water
The Tick
TimeCop
Top Racer 2 (Piko 2)
Trials of Mana
True Lies
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3
Umihara Kawase
Undercover Cops
Weaponlord (Namco Collection 2)
Wild Guns
Wolverine: Adamantium Rage
Wonder Project J
X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse
Ys V: Kefin, Lost Kingdom of Sand
Zen-Nippon Pro Wrestling 2: 3-4
Zig Zag Cat

Nine Years of Indie Gamer Chick

Wow. So, I missed my annual June 30th “thank you” post to the community by a couple days, and I hope that doesn’t lead anyone to believe that I take being Indie Gamer Chick for granted, because I don’t. When I started this blog on July 1, 2011, I never could have imaged where it would take me in life. The type of friends I’d make. The people I’d meet. The legends of gaming who tell me they like my work, even though it’s supposed to be the other way. It’s been a surreal, but incredible, nine years.

I won’t lie: the fire I once had as a writer doesn’t burn as brightly today, in 2020, as it did when I started IGC. That’s probably been obvious for a while now. While I genuinely believe my reviews over the last few years are my best work ever, finding the motivation to sit down and write them has been a greater struggle than I could ever have imagined. Tom Zito, founder of Digital Pictures.. yes, the company that did Night Trap, Sewer Shark, and other crappy Sega CD games.. didn’t actually start as game maker. He was a writer. Specifically, he was a music critic.. He wrote for Rolling Stone, in fact, and was one of the most respected men in the field of music criticism. But, one day, he told his editor “I’m running out of adjectives” and moved on to other things.

Well, although I’m not moving on from being Indie Gamer Chick, I fully admit, I’m running out of adjectives.

I’ve even thought about quitting Indie Gamer Chick. Not because of the community. My God, you guys have been so good to me. You have no idea what you’ve meant to my life. Rather, I think game writing, game reviews, etc, should belong to those whose fire burns bright. Mine no longer does, at least for most indie games. I still play them. I spend probably a couple hundred bucks a month just buying indies. Playing them? Writing about them? I think I’ve been burned out for a while now. I think it shows.

Thusly, I spent July, 2019 through June 30, 2020 exploring other aspects of gaming. My life-long love of pinball finally was married to my love of video games when I launched ThePinballChick.com, a blog that I get to work on with my Father, Oscar. He’s in his 70s now and he’s in the best shape of his life. He’s also in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, and while his treatment and therapy is going great and he’s expected to be healthy for a few years yet to come, he’s on the clock. Doing The Pinball Chick with him has been truly incredible for both of us. When his time is up, the work we’ve done is something I’ll always be able to look at and cherish. A project that I did with my Dad. My hero. He’s also started playing video games himself. It was recommended to treat the condition. We went from me and my friends picking games for him to play to him scouting out and buying his own games. His favorite so far? The Ghostbusters game! He also was fond of games in the Zelda and Metal Gear series, while he found stuff like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts to be too.. out there.. for his tastes. You can’t win them all.

For those that don’t pay much attention to my Twitter, I’ve also been exploring gaming’s past over the last year. For my entire Indie Gamer Chick existence, I’ve gotten scorn from the retro gaming community for being against older games. I always felt that was unfair. No, I don’t like every legendary game, but anti-retro? I buy every classic-gaming compilation, always have, and have done my best to help preservation efforts for games from my era and earlier. But, yea, maybe I could have given the classics a bit more credit. And so, we built a computer just for me to run emulators off of and I’ve spent the last several months running through classic games. I played through hundreds of Atari 2600 games in May, and began a summer-long project to play hundreds of NES, SNES, and Genesis games in June. I’m still working on them now. I’ve found the whole experience to be personally rewarding and educational. It’s opened my eyes to dozens of marvelous lost treasures that deserved to go down in history and didn’t. I imagine the heartbreak felt by fans of those games isn’t all that different from the heartbreak I’d feel watching an incredible indie game go unnoticed by the general masses. We really aren’t all that different after all.

And so, that’s where we are today. Am I done? Nope. Will I be back to writing indie reviews full time eventually? I think so. Maybe the fire doesn’t burn as bright, but it still burns. I still work with the development community, offering support and advice. I still work as an advocate to the indie scene full time, and always will. And actually, I think I’ll come away from this retro gaming journey I’m on a better gamer and a better writer, with a new appreciation for the medium that I’ve cherished since a 7-year-old girl asked for a PlayStation for Christmas in 1996, or later when I was the 9-year-old birthday girl getting an Nintendo 64 with Banjo-Kazooie to celebrate the day. Gaming has been everything to me. That won’t change. Even when times are tough, and they’ve never been tougher for as many people as they are now, we have our games, and the worlds and wonders they bring us to explore. And so today, nine years to the day after I published my first game review, I want to thank every single reader, every single developer, and the entire community for their support. I never took it for granted, and never will. You all have my love and gratitude forever. I’ll never be done, because you’ll never be done.

-Cathy Vice
July 2, 2020

I Get to Play Dreams

Eight years.

It’s unreal to think about. I mean, that’s a lot of years. That’s two full Olympic cycles. That’s two full US Presidential elections. That’s the majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Actually, Indie Gamer Chick opened three weeks before Captain America: First Avenger if you’re one of those people who now track time by super hero movie releases. It’s a long time. Of course, from my perspective, that time flew right on by. That’s what tends to happen when you’re having the time of your life.

A lot has changed over these last eight years. I’ve changed. Gaming has changed. Indie development has come so far. Imagine telling 21-year-old me on July 1, 2011 the heights some of these developers would reach. Billion dollar acquisitions. Developing franchise games for Nintendo. Being E3 showcase titles. I’d probably not believed it. Here we are, eight years later, and those statements still sound unbelievable. Yet, they’ve all happened. And they’ll continue to happen. Because, right now, we’re living in the Golden Age of Indie Games. That’s how history will remember this era. I’m doing my best to not take the position I’ve found myself in for granted.

I’ve had so much fun being Indie Gamer Chick for these last eight years. I’ve experienced so many games that I know I’d likely never played if I hadn’t found myself reviewing them. I don’t love them all, but always at least try to admire the drive and desire to get them out there. But, when I do love them, it’s a feeling so incredible that I often spend days trying to express it as a review and still walk away feeling like my words come up short. When you realize that the game you’re playing is someone else’s life-long dream coming true, it’s special. And these days, I get to experience that a lot more often than I could ever have imagined. It’s a treat. It’s an honor.

The most exciting part is that we’ll all be seeing a lot more of that in the future. The tools to create games have never been more accessible, and the ability to distribute those games has never been easier. While we all get hyped for incredible trailers or the latest tent-pole franchise releases, the games that excite me most are the ones I’ve never heard of. They’re games that will trace their origins to a young person holding their first controller, their imagination running wild. That’s what I get to do. I get to play people’s dreams. We all do. How lucky are we all?

And so, thank you to everyone, my friends, my fans, and indie developers everywhere for the best eight years of my life, and for all the amazing years of playing dreams yet to come.

-Catherine Vice
June 30, 2019

Vice Versus: Cuphead Diary (Day 2)

In Vice Versus, I’ll be returning to games I never previously beat. I will play them one hour at most a day until I’ve reached my goal. For Cuphead, that goal is to get the contracts for all the bosses, then defeat King Dice and The Devil. I’m keeping a daily diary of this project. The following is done out of the Indie Gamer Chick character.

My Cuphead journey got off to a pretty decent start. I made a lot more progress on day one than I figured I would. Of course, I pretty much only cleared out the two easiest bosses. The ones that I never struggled all that much with the first time around. Now, all that was left for Inkwell Isle I were bosses that I needed dozens of attempts to get the contracts for during my original Cuphead session. And once I get past these, I move on to Inkwell II, where I’ve not gotten any of the contracts. Ever. Today felt like my last attempt to get “study” in before the test begins. And it didn’t start so good.

I decided to start against Ribby and Croaks because I’d struggled the most with them during my first play-session with Cuphead back in 2017. And last year, while working on my Cuphead re-review, I publicly failed to put them away while streaming my playtime. It seemed like these guys would be ideal to get in practice time. And then I actually started playing, and it was like a splash of ice water to the face. My struggles to get the timing of the parry down are still apparent. Actually, for the first ten minutes my timing wasn’t there at all. I also somehow, in my research, didn’t realize that the fireballs Ribby shoots during phase 1 change the order of which one you can parry on. A complete failure to prepare on my part.

Regardless, clearing the first two phases was no issue for me. The final phase, however, I failed, failed, failed. The frogs merge to form a giant slot machine that has three primary attack patterns. The one that specifically screwed me was the Bison pattern, which features spiked platforms that have fire shooting either above or below it. I could (mostly) get the timing for the Tiger and Snake patterns. For the Bison, I took more damage hitting the sides of the platforms than I did from the fire. This is a world-one boss, and if this is a harbinger for things to come, I’m screwed. Several times in a row I got just seconds away from victory, more than once with more than a single hit-point left, only to squander it. It was genuinely heart-wrenching to see how bad I was croaking.. I mean choking.

And then, something that didn’t affect me at all during my first day started to mess with my game: nerves. Even if I could keep myself calm during the first two phases, inevitably that hot-cold nerve moment hit as soon as the animation of the frogs merging to form the slot machine began. My hands started sweating, which really didn’t help considering that they were already starting to cramp up as well. Mistakes started to pile up over and over. Soon, I was taking damage even during the Snake pattern, which I had previously found to be the most tolerable. Hell, I even took damage from one of the coins being launched at me, which is probably the easiest projectile to dodge in the entire fight.

I was coming so close to winning and coming up short, replay after replay. There was one run specifically that I was so disgusted with myself after dying that I forgot to save the replay. I had made it through phase one in what had to have been close to a world record time, hitting all the parries along the way. Then, during the second phase, I’d somehow timed the damage in such a way where Croaks (the one that becomes a giant fan) was stun-locked while Ribby went into his attack animation. This meant I’d caused enough damage to end phase 2 just a split second after Ribby began his attack. All the damage from here would carry over to the third and final phase: the slot machine. And I had all three hit points. Not only would I be on track to have less attack waves for the final phase but I might set a time actual Cuphead experts would find impressive. I was actually calm too. That was the weird part. Maybe I would have played better if the nerves were flowing, because during the very first attack pattern, which was Snake, my BEST ONE, I got three-quarters of the way through the attack before mistiming a jump and taking damage, then immediately took another hit on the very last platform of the attack. I was so stunned and knocked out of my senses by this that I ended up jumping right into one of the easy to dodge coins the slot machine spits out before you can open it up for attack. Dead again, with a meter showing me that I was probably less than one second work of bullets away from winning. I felt like I was going to throw-up.


What an absolute disaster. I probably should have taken a break, because following that, the next few runs had me making mistakes in phases 1 and 2 far worse than I had been making earlier. Before I knew it, over half the time I allotted for myself for this project (one hour of actual playtime at most per day) was gone. The clock element that I added myself just made things worse. I realized that there’s probably going to be days where I won’t make any progress at all. That’s a thought so sickening that I might change the rules so that I can keep playing after an hour if I haven’t beaten the boss I started on for the day. This was a world one boss and I couldn’t get past it.

OVER FORTY MINUTES LATER I finally made a breakthrough. My nerves were pretty much shot and my hands were now actively starting to hurt. But, on my nineteenth attempt, I beat Clip Joint Calamity, and had a perfect score too.

This whole battle really reinforced to me the problem with Cuphead. The time investment I had to make to get this contract and the anguish I felt playing it wasn’t worth the end result. I kept playing it because I simply HAD to beat this boss in order to get its contract so I can eventually be given access to the final level of the game. If I had switched to “simple mode” I’d won on my first attempt. Yes, I got a sense of relief, but gaming should be more than a sense of relief I think. I do admit, I was a little proud that the round that I finally won on ended with two straight waves of the toughest attack pattern for me and I still finished with a perfect score. But no, I don’t feel better for having beaten it. I feel stupid for having taken so long to do so.

And then this happened. On my very first attempt, I took down Cagney Carnation. Going into Vice Versus, I figured there was a chance I might have one or two “eye of the tiger” moments and get a perfect score on bosses, at least early in the game. I also had planned to beat the Forest Follies stage on my first attempt and knew with the Seeker gun I could do it. But this? It was so unexpected that I literally started screaming in elation. It was 3AM. I woke up the entire house. Fireball and Laika, my dogs, hid under the bed while I jumped around the room. This is not a joke. I was so happy.

Let me make something clear: the joy I felt in taking down Floral Fury without losing a life in no way negates all the suffering I had just been through with Clip Joint Calamity, or all the misery yet to come. But for one shining moment, Cuphead made me feel like a superhero. Even if, according to a couple of Cuphead experts, I can partially thank incredibly lucky RNG from the attack patterns Cagney used. I’m NEVER lucky with RNG, so if that’s the case, I’ll take it. Also, this was hardly a perfect boss fight. I forgot to switch guns more than once, and as a result I wasn’t doing damage when I should have been. I still won the fight, but I should have won it sooner than I did. I need to work on that.

I’m not a shmup person. The only one I’ve ever put significant time into was Ikaruga on the GameCube when I was 13 (surprise, I did beat it). In my post-epilepsy life, it’s the genre that poses the most risk to me. Consequently, it was these stages I struggled the most on, even in simple mode, during my first few Cuphead play-sessions. Even Hilda here took me over an hour to get the contract for the first time. The infamous dragon boss put up less of a fight than these stages did. I had about 15 minutes of playtime left and didn’t expect a victory before time was up. Then, on my first run, I got to phase three. I didn’t expect that.

In both of my first two attempts, I got to phase three only to die due to the UFOs. In my third run, I took damage against a tornado I should have been able to avoid, then botched the timing of using the super bomb while Hilda was in the animation to change into the moon, taking me down to my last health. I figured I was toast and decided I’d use the life to try and get the timing of the UFOs down. It didn’t work out that way, because I ended up getting it right and scoring a knockout using a missile. It took me over an hour to get the contract the first time around. On this day, it took me three attempts. Not bad.

I still had a couple of minutes left but decided to call it quits. I had planned to need three to four days for Inkwell Isle I. Instead, I got all five contracts and all the coins in the run & guns in just two days. Of course, I’d already accomplished everything up to this point before. The real challenge begins now. I’ve not gotten a single contract from any boss in Inkwell II or III. I don’t think I got the practice I needed in, but there’s no turning back now.

Super Mario Bros. 2: Outlasting the Test of Time

I have a reputation for being “anti-Nintendo” and “anti-Retro.” Neither is true. The reality is Nintendo was as important to my gaming upbringing as it was to any slobbering fanboy. The Nintendo 64 I got on my 9th birthday in July, 1998 is what solidified gaming as my passion. I think that’s a bit profound, especially given that it wasn’t the first game console I wanted for an important holiday. The first time I asked for anything gaming related, it was the original PlayStation over a year earlier. I loved my PlayStation, but I didn’t truly love gaming until Nintendo became part of my life. What a hater I am.

As for retro-gaming, fine, I’ve probably earned the “anti” perception, even if it’s not true of me. But, in my defense, I’m 29-years-old. I grew up in the 32 bit/64 bit era. The games of the past were just old games to me, nothing more. By time I took interest in gaming’s history, I had developed epilepsy. Those older games relied heavily on strobe effects, which is my specific trigger. But, that really has nothing to do with my opinions on classic games. It’s more about how people from generations before me tend to put them on a pedestal based not on gameplay merit but on what the titles meant to their childhood. It’s something my generation doesn’t really do. Then again, I grew up in the early 3D era. It was a time full of games destined to age as badly as Lindsay Lohan.

Before we continue, shout out to Nintendo. They removed the dangerous strobe effects from the games in the Switch Online NES library. Now, when you die in Zelda II, the screen turns pink instead of trying to give players a seizure as punishment for not surviving their shitty, unplayable, prohibitively difficult Zelda sequel. Why pink you ask? Well, I can explain. You see, when you’re making love to your husband and then hear the horrifying sound of a “snap” commonly associated with a broken condom, you have to pee on a stick to find out whether or not you have to pay a visit to Dr. Coathanger. If the strip on the stick turns pink instead of blue, it means you’re not pregnant. Not pregnant means no life. See, it makes perfect sense!

I’ve always done my best to separate games I consider the best ever with games that are my personal favorites. I would never argue that WarioWare Inc.: Mega MicroGame$ for the Game Boy Advance is the best game of all-time. It’s not. If pinned into a corner, I’d probably say Tetris or Portal have to be up there because I can literally find no fault with them and they happen to be insanely fun. I think the drama mostly comes from people who truly believe that their childhood favorites like Super Mario 1 or the original Legend of Zelda are still the best games of all time and have never been topped. Which is just absurd. They’ve been topped many times. What hasn’t been topped is the blood-dopamine levels your prepubescent body generated when you played these for the first time. Your adult body isn’t even capable of naturally creating that much dopamine now. Hence, no game can ever match-up to how those games made you feel. I’m not making that up. That’s the actual science behind it. Well, unless you’re self-aware enough to realize that gaming is better now than it was during your childhood. For all the bitching we do about microtransactions and pay-to-win or too much DLC, gaming today is better than it was then. There is something for everyone now, at affordable prices to boot.

Take a deep breath, classic gamers: it’s alright for some of your childhood favorites to have aged badly. Almost all of mine did! Crash Bandicoot? Unplayable today. My entire 3D Nintendo 64 library? How did I never notice how shitty this frame rate was? Like seriously, who replaced my copy of Goldeneye, a game that gave me hundreds of hours of top-rate multiplayer mayhem with this slow, buggy, low-frame-rate, unbalanced biowaste dumpster fire?

Oh wait, nobody did. Goldeneye was cutting-edge back then. That’s why we never noticed. Games didn’t get more advanced at the time. They’re way more advanced now. That’s why those technical hitches stick out so much more today.

While playing Kid Icarus on Switch Online, I triggered slowdown as the result of having too many characters on-screen no less than five times during the first stage alone. To hell with “true to the originals” emulation. Can’t they patch this shit out?

Here’s the thing about the test of time: it’s gaming’s most unfair testing standard. Developers of the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, or 2010s mostly didn’t have it in mind. They wanted to sell product and make money then. Most major, tentpole releases were based on the tastes and trends of the moment. The test of time is the game industry’s version of a pop quiz. Nobody prepares for it, and yet we should have all known it was coming eventually.

Here’s another thing about the test of time: it’s gaming’s most cruel testing standard. You can factor in historical context or popularity or importance to culture all you want. It won’t change a single thing about how good a game is today.

One more thing about the test of time: whether you like it or not, it does exist and surviving it should be rare. It wouldn’t be special otherwise. And really, the vast majority of games don’t do it. Some games that are considered all-timers are just plain not fun today. It’s a major issue for retro gamers to come to terms with: that their childhood favorites aren’t fun anymore.

I don’t really think Super Mario 1 is fun at all. The same exact formula has been done better so many times. I didn’t like New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS either, and I got that the day it came out. I thought it was really boring. But I’d much rather play that installment in the franchise than the 1985 Super Mario. It controls better, has more stuff to do, has better level design, more replay value, and just is better on its own merit than Super Mario Bros. 1. It’s not even close, really. For those 80s gamers reading this and feeling their blood pressure spiking, I don’t know what else to tell you. It’s true. Old games were not made to be good thirty years later. Yes, it’s unfair to think they could hold up, but it’s downright delusional to think they should hold up.

Here’s one that retro fans SWEAR holds up. Well, change that. They swear Tecmo SUPER Bowl holds up. But we won’t see that one again anytime soon because it costs something like two trillion dollars to license the term “Super Bowl.” That’s why so many people call it “The Big Game” in advertising or other works. But, let’s face it, “Tecmo Big Game” sounds lame as fuck. My suggestion: Tecmo can just change the S to a D and re-release it on Switch online. Seriously, would anyone care if they called it “Tecmo Duper Bowl” instead. Wait.. really? You would? It’s literally the same game with a different name. Oh wait, I forgot you retro types lose your shit over having Mr. Dream in Punch-Out!! instead of Mike Tyson.

But there are some exceptions.

Take Super Mario Bros. 2. It’s still, to this day, my favorite 2D Mario game. Kind of. You see, up until this last week, I’d never played the NES port of it. I first played it in 2001 when a steroided up version of it, Super Mario Advance, was a launch title for the Game Boy Advance. And really, that version of it is the version that I hold up as my personal favorite 2D installment in the Mario franchise. Now cue the inevitable know-it-all fanboys who want to show off how deeply knowledgeable they are by pointing out that it’s not a real Mario game. Yes, yes, we all know about Doki Doki Panic. Yes, we all know there’s a different Super Mario 2 in Japan. Well, Japan sent the real Super Mario 2 to Nintendo of America. NOA said “this sucks, give us a better game.” Case closed: US Super Mario 2 is the real Super Mario 2. You fanboys can have your unplayable, anti-fun ROM hack of Mario 1. It’s all yours.

Super Mario 2 is a genuine gaming rarity: it’s every bit as fun today as it was in 1988. No matter your gaming background. No matter what order you play the Mario series in. Age does not factor in at all. Maybe the port you play does matter, but having just played the vastly inferior NES version, a major step backwards from the remake I played when I was 12, yeah, no, it’s still fun regardless. Besides, Mario Advance is actually just as much a port itself from the Mario 2 in Super Mario All-Stars. And ideas like having more hidden stuff or the bosses taunting you was borrowed from BS Super Mario USA Power Challenge, a game for the Super Famicom Satellaview. Have a look.

The step backwards from Mario Advance to Mario 2 isn’t merely graphical. There’s no score. There’s no super coins to find. There’s no Yoshi eggs. Instead of a Robo-Birdo for the boss of the World 3, it’s just a pallet-swapped Mouser (in fact, Doki Doki has a third Mouser as the boss of world 5 instead of Clawgrip the crab). The most consequential change is if you die on a stage, you’re committed to using the character you just failed with instead of getting to re-pick. That’s brutal. I had buyer’s remorse selecting Luigi in level 5 – 1, but I was stuck. And finally, you can actually see the reels of the slot machines and use timing to win the lives. In the NES version it really is just luck. But using the Switch Online platform, I didn’t need luck. Just save states. I’m guessing that strategy wouldn’t work at a real casino. “Uh.. hey guys. Pause. Load state. I want to try that hand again. Let’s start at the flop. I checked when I should have raised. Give everyone the same hands as before. Now remember everyone, pretend like what just happened after the flop didn’t happen. Why are you calling security?”

There’s no point in doing a traditional review of Super Mario Bros. 2. It’s older than I am. It’s gotten its feedback. But, I’ve been a bit obsessed with it as of late. It seemed like a game that defied conventional wisdom. It should have aged as badly as every other NES game, because it has a lot wrong with it. There’s blind jumps that are completely unfair. Luigi is grossly over-powered to the point that you can bypass large sections of stages just by using his charge jump. Peach is nearly as bad, though at the cost of her being significantly slower at picking things up. A running Luigi jump clears as many blocks. A big part of why these balance issues exist is because Doki Doki Panic didn’t have a run button. Levels weren’t designed around running jumps. That’s why you can circumvent large sections of the game. So why did they add such a feature? Because you could hold B to run in Super Mario 1, and they wanted at least one mechanic from the original Super Mario Bros to carry over to the not-sequel that became the sequel. B-Running was chosen, and in doing so, they inadvertently nerfed nearly half the game.

The flash from the bombs is gone in Super Mario 2 as well. Thankfully when I tweeted about this the majority of classic gaming fans were happy for me and didn’t go all Star Wars fandom “rape my childhood” for Nintendo having done a couple very minor graphical changes that most non-epileptics didn’t like anyway. I think one person complained about the “slippery slope” of changing graphics in a game that came into existence by changing a previous game’s graphics.

And yet, Mario 2 is still a masterpiece. I’m writing these words over thirty-years after the game released in the United States. How the fuck did Mario 2 escape Father Time? I spent over a week studying the levels and the history of the game. I talked with fans who were around at the time it came out. For most Mario fans, Mario World is the one they still hold in the highest esteem, with Mario 3 close by it and Mario 2 left completely in the dust. And I get that. Mario 1 was probably the game that made them want an NES in the first place, and Mario 3 was the first direct-sequel to it. It took the franchise back its roots with question mark blocks, power-ups, end-goals at the end of levels instead of killing a Birdo and walking through the door. It’s what they wanted Mario 2 to be. Mario World doesn’t have as wide a variety of power-ups, but it makes up for that with (mostly) superior level-design, better innovations (Yoshi and the idea of having an item on reserve), and better balancing.

I’m not hating on Mario 3 or Mario World like I do Mario 1. In fact, I’d put them in the pantheon on platformers. They’re so good that it’s a no-brainer, really. But both have felt the ravages of time a lot more than Mario 2 has. Mario 3 has a lot of cheap design, under-utilizes some of the more fun power-ups (especially the Hammer Bros. suit), and most damning: a few of the worlds are actively boring (especially world 2, the desert) or just plain crappy (world 6, where the ice stages are). Mario World is a lot better, but also gets interrupted somewhat frequently with more basic, bland stages that feel like filler. And I think the auto-scrolling areas of both Mario 3 & World can go fuck themselves. With the exception of one incredibly cheap blind fall in Mario 2, its flaws have a lot less impact. It didn’t just age better. It practically didn’t age at all.

Of all the memorable moments in Super Mario 2, this is my personal favorite. It was just so unexpected. “Holy shit, the door is trying to kill me now!” My personal choice for the best surprise boss fight in gaming history.

And I know why: because it was never done again. The original Mario formula has had multiple chances to be re-worked. Super Mario 3, World, New Super Mario, and so forth. Not to mention the countless games that Super Mario 1 inspired. On the other hand, Mario 2 was pretty much never done again. The closest any game apparently ever came to it was an unlicensed game based on Bible characters for the NES. Sure, it was remade, but that’s different from being completely rebuilt. We’ve seen lots of games built on the foundation Mario 1 poured. But, thirty years later, there’s still only one Mario 2. It never got a direct sequel. Its primary mechanics never carried over to another major game. It defies aging on the basis of never having been attempted again. And that’s strange, because we’re talking about one of the single most important games ever made. Even StarTropics got a sequel, for fuck’s sake. Kid Icarus got a couple! Excitebike got a 3D remake! Mario 2 outsold them all combined and was still a one-off. Some of its characters became Mario staples, but its gameplay never resurfaced again. Even though almost everyone likes it, if not loves it. Weird.

So actually, Mario 2 is even more exceptional than you first realized. Think about it: the NES was scorching hot in 1988, when it released. Fans were clamoring for the sequel to Super Mario Bros. As popular as the NES was, it wasn’t quite solidified yet. For all the world knew, it was a brief resurgence of an otherwise passed fad: video games. If Mario 2 had sucked, or had outright bombed, it absolutely could have cooled Nintendo’s jets and put a grinding halt to their momentum.

And then gamers get Mario 2, and it’s so fucking weird. A complete departure from the original. No question mark blocks. No fire flowers. No Goombas or Koopas or Bowser or any enemies from Mario 1. No flagpole. No killing enemies by jumping on them. The coins work completely different and aren’t just scattered around stages. Everything is built around picking up and throwing stuff, with only a few cursory nods to the original, like the star or the mushroom. It’s a Mario game in name only, with westerners mostly oblivious to its origins as a reskinning of a completely unrelated game based on mascots for a glorified Japanese state fair being put on by a television station.

You kill Wart by feeding him vegetables. He hates vegetables. Which is why he placed a fucking vegetable generator in his throne room. Like, seriously, have we considered he never returned because he’s too dumb to sign the contract?

Everyone knows the story of Nintendo risking everything when they launched the NES in North America, offering an insane no-risk deal to stores in order to get them to carry the console. That move deserves the recognition it gets, but I wonder why nobody looks at Super Mario Bros. 2 in the same light. Because it certainly was a huge risk for Nintendo. If fans had rejected Super Mario 2, imagine what a catastrophe it would have been. Especially considering that Zelda II: The Adventure of Link released around the same time and was an even more polarizing departure from the original game in its series. Early Nintendo adopters could very easily have decided that Nintendo wasn’t giving them the type of games they were asking for and moved on to other things. It seems absurd now, but it was definitely on the table back then.

Thankfully, Super Mario 2 was so good on its own merit that it continued to sell even after word-of-mouth that it was nothing like Super Mario 1 had a chance to take hold. Ten million copies on the NES were sold. You don’t get sales like that on name value alone. And Super Mario 2 as an entity onto itself was so viable that a remake of it was chosen to be the Mario launch game for the Game Boy Advance. It was thirteen years later. Thirteen! Thirteen years ago today, George W. Bush was still President and nobody knew who Barack Obama was. That’s how fast the world changes, and yet, Super Mario 2, thirteen years-old, was still good enough to be a flagship launch game for a major platform. I’d never argue against Super Mario Bros. being the reason there was so many Nintendo Entertainment Systems in households in the 80s. But in major way, Super Mario Bros. 2 is what assured there would continue to be Nintendo devices in American households into the 90s and beyond. Yes, it’s the “weird one” in the series. But it’s the one that I most tip my hat to. Against all odds, it holds up better than any “real” Mario game. To paraphrase an old adage: man fears time. But time fears Super Mario 2.

Super Mario Bros. 2 was developed by Nintendo
Free to Play with a Switch Online Subscription

Interested in Super Mario Bros 2? Boss Fight Books has a book detailing its history by Jon Irwin. Check it out here for $4.99.

indie-gamer-chick-approvedSuper Mario Bros 2. is Chick-Approved, but as a non-indie is not ranked on the IGC Leaderboard.

My Dream Game

Well, I’m not quite ready to put my thoughts to pen and paper (or in this case, fingertips and keyboards) on Gris or Monster Boy yet, but I also promised that I’d update IGC daily in 2019. So how’s this for a change of pace: I’m often asked “what’s your dream game?” At first, the question caught me off-guard. My dream game? I’m honestly open to the idea of liking, even loving, any game. As far as I’m concerned, “best game I’ve played” is on the table for every single title I’ve played up until it does something to remove itself from the conversation. My dream game? Something I like more than my current all-time favorite: WarioWare Inc. I can’t imagine how much I’ll like that game, but it’ll be spectacular. I’m only 29-years-old and I think that game is somewhere in the horizon. I hope so. Frankly I’m sick of people looking me weird when I call WarioWare my favorite of all-time. They ask if I have ADHD.

But fine.. I’ll play along. What’s a game I’ve always wanted that never got made?

How about a sequel to Super Mario Bros. 2?

His hands say “turnip” but his eyes say “peyote.”

I mean the American version. You can’t mention it without some insufferably smug fanboys saying “OMG that’s not the real Super Mario 2 you fucking newb that’s really a game called Doki Doki Panic you fake gamer gurl you don’t know anything about games!” Yea yea. Here’s the thing: the real Super Mario 2 fucking sucks. It’s a ROM hack that Miyamoto and his crew must have been on their man-periods while making because it’s a maddening, frustrating, completely unfair piece of shit of a game. It makes Vs. Super Mario Bros look positively restrained, and that’s saying something.

The real real Super Mario 2 came out in Japan in 1987 and the US in 1988 and it’s truly an astonishing game. A landmark in level design so inspired that 30 years later I actually had to call out the Wonder Boy III indie remake/repainting for its blandness in that area. How could I not? The gauntlet had been thrown down, and with all the exploration and secrets of Super Mario 2 a full two years before Wonder Boy released (and a full two years before I was even born), it seems the benchmark had already been set. The really amazing thing? It holds up today. I first played it for the Game Boy Advance under the name Super Maro Advance at the age of twelve in 2001, when it was a full fourteen years old, and I loved it then. I still love it today. It’s my favorite 2D Mario. Mario 3 and Mario World aren’t even in the discussion for me.

The irony is I never used Mario when I played it. I’d use Toad for the first couple levels, stock up on coins for the slot machine, win a bunch of lives, then used Luigi to finish everything after that. Honestly, what fucking loser used Mario? He sucked in it.

How have we never gotten a sequel to THAT? And don’t say “Super Mario 3D World” because it’s not a sequel. It’s a really lazy 3D version of New Super Mario Bros. Just because you can play as Toad and Peach doesn’t make it essentially a direct follow-up to Mario 2. And honestly, I thought the new power-ups sucked. Cat Mario? Seriously? I honestly think most new Mario games begin as a game of Mad Libs.

Mario gets a (noun) BELL that turns him into (animal) CAT Mario, who can then (verb) CLIMB.

Yawn.

No, I want a sequel to Mario 2. I want completely off-the-wall, fever-dream enemies. I want horizon/vertical level design that aspires to raise the bar completely out of reach for other games. I want Wart.

Oh.. and I want it to be a Metroidvania.

Repeat after me: Super Mario 2 play mechanics.. but as a Metroidvania.

You can picture it, right?

If I could will a game into existence but it would cost me a year off my life, I’d have to really think about this one.

Mario has never done an actual Metroidvania, and if any one of his previous adventures would lend itself to one, it’d be Mario 2. Even single levels from it can feel like huge, vast open worlds. So let’s just take those settings, scrunch them together, add a few more new ones, tell the 4th world (the ice levels with the little runny snowmen things) we must have misplaced the invitation, and presto: you have a viable new series for Mario that can bring in dosh every few years. Not that Mario needs a new series. I mean, come on.. there’s a Mario basketball game. Basketball not exactly known as a sport that fat Italian plumbers excel at. Even better: it’s developed by Square-Enix. Because when you think video basketball, you think of the guys who make Final Fantasy, and you want to play as Mario.

So, will they ever do it? I don’t think so. Nintendo made a direct-sequel to Yoshi’s Island for the DS and it was so putrid that nobody talks about it.. or apparently even remembers it.. anymore. “Oh you mean Yoshi’s Story?” No, Yoshi’s Island DS, made by a company so awesome they no longer exist. They also made Blinx. Blinx sucked. This sucked worse.

Horrible. Just horrible. Artoon was one of the worst studios ever. They made Yoshi’s Topsy Turvy, a game that I felt was unplayable. Nintendo saw how they did on that and gave them another game with the franchise. Ugh.

What does that have to do with a Mario 2 Metroidvania, or a sequel to Mario 2 at all? Nintendo tends to get burned when they try to resurrect old ideas. It’s even happened already with Mario 2. It was the lowest-selling of the four Mario Advance titles. Maybe that’s the fate of Mario 2. To always be “the weird one” of the series. The “not a real Mario game” Mario game. I hope not, but here we are in 2019 and it’s still just that strange anomaly in the series. The one better known for bringing us Shy-Guys and Birdo and little more. Mouser? Triclyde? Fryguy? Clawgrip? Completely forgotten. Actually fun fact: Clawgrip isn’t in Doki Doki Panic. It’s an albino Mouser in the Japanese vers.. GODDAMNIT NOW I’M ONE OF THEM TOO!

The Difficulty Gateway

I usually say that I feel my reviews as Indie Gamer Chick represent the average gamer, but the truth is I’m probably above-average in skill-level for most genres. Some, like puzzlers, I chew through so easily that I usually hand games off to my family to make sure they’re not too easy for normies. But being a fairly hardcore gamer since the age of nine and being a game critic is a tough balancing act. One that doesn’t get discussed enough, because we’re all probably better at games than Fred and Ethel shopping for something on payday to kill a weekend with on their dusty Xbox One. When a game doesn’t have adjustable skill-levels, challenge is hard to quantify on your own. You’re playing the game based on decades of experience, and can only assume how others will take it. Even if you have friends or family to observe, it’s not like you’ve been studying them in a laboratory your entire life and can fully approximate the ceiling of their ability.

Of course, being a game critic, if I’m not being told that the only reason I didn’t like a game is because I wasn’t “objective enough”, the most common thing I’m told is that I just suck at games. I didn’t like Cuphead, ergo I suck at games. I didn’t like Hollow Knight, ergo I suck at games. I didn’t like Hotline Miami, ergo I suck at games.

Ah yes, Battletoads. A game so fondly remembered that it could go completely dormant for twenty years because it was so prohibitively difficult that very, very few would ever remember it as an all-time great.

I don’t think I suck at games. Maybe some games. Like fighting games aren’t my thing, and an early running gag at Indie Gamer Chick was me noting that I couldn’t ever get the hang of throwing a Dragon Punch with Ken or Ryu (I’m proud to report I can now, suck it Kris & Jesse). It doesn’t mean I don’t like fighting games though. I got Mortal Kombat XL for Christmas and took delight in violence so awesome that it would make even the most dead-inside grizzled veteran become physically ill. But something like Cuphead? I actually don’t think I was that bad at it. I got all the contracts (IE I beat all the bosses on the standard insanely crazy hard difficulty) for the first world and beat all the bosses on the lowest difficulty for the first three worlds, something nearly 90% of all Cuphead owners either couldn’t do or couldn’t be bothered to do. As for Hollow Knight, I’ve heard fans of the game tell me how hard a boss was that I downed without breaking a sweat. I wasn’t dying all that much while playing it and only once did I die without retrieving the shit I dropped, thus losing it.

By the way, I sucked at Spelunky. I really sucked at Kingdom. They’re both IGC all-timers. Trust me, if talent was required for me to enjoy something, I wouldn’t have any hobbies at all.

I’m not a fan of the notion that games are supposed to be hard to prevent undesirables from playing them, or any game. That the measure of a true gamer is being able to finish these hard games. What an absurd notion this is. It’s snobbery of the lowest order. For games like Cuphead, I’ve come up with the phrase “prohibitively difficult” to describe them. I think Cuphead crosses the line where even above-average players will be gated-off from large sections of content without any hope of ever being good enough to reach them. And for those who say “practice harder”, this isn’t an activity where increasing your skill level will lead to greater things in life. It’s a video game. I’m not going to put in eight hours of practice a day just so I can fight a giant animated stack of poker chips.

By the way, Cuphead wiki, this is based on Amarillo Slim. Only the Babe Ruth of Poker. “Duhhhh, we think it’s based on poker. You can tell by the chips.” Good lord, you people need to get out of the house sometime.

Far be it from me to tell anyone how to make their games. If you feel your dream project should only be able to be finished by 2% of all gamers, so be it. But, maybe you should consider telling your fans to stop calling those who can’t beat it a bunch of pussies. I’ve seen players far above my skill level who enjoy quality run-and-spray games walk away broken and shaken from Cuphead, wondering if their skills are depleting as they grow increasingly decrepit or if it’s the game. It’s the game.

And what’s the point of gating, anyway? Contra is an all-time classic, and one of my personal favorite NES games. It’s kind of a travesty that it wasn’t part of the NES Classic. Instead, we got inferior sequel Super C instead. Contra is hard, but it has the most famous means of overcoming that difficulty in the history of gaming: the Konami Code. If that wasn’t in the game, nobody would talk about Contra today. The Heart of Contra wouldn’t be one of the most legendary bosses of all time. It’d just be one of those NES games people say “cool, I remember it. It was hard” and then talk like blowhards about how games were better back in the day while reminiscing about all the titles they never got around to beating.

Has it ever been confirmed this is actually supposed to be a heart and not, you know, the Gonads of Contra?

So how is someone like me, an above average player, supposed to quantify the value of a game that didn’t just destroy me, but destroyed even better players I know? Indies are dependent on word of mouth, and “this game left me blistered and defeated” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement to your average gamer. A critic isn’t an asshole for telling people the game is too hard to recommend, nor are they a pussy. You’re who gated the game off. And for what? So a small percentage of players who will never help you move a single unit outside their clubhouse can have a secret handshake “we’re the only real gamers” crowing moment? If they tell you that you’re selling out for including adjustable difficulty, you tell them to pony up a few hundred thousand dollars so your kids can go to college. I’m sure they’ll get right on that.

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