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Whenever a sequel gets made for a popular yet seemingly standalone game, it's bound to become a topic of interest. Because while many games are released with the explicit understanding that it is (or will be) part of a series, some, like 2001's Luigi's Mansion, don't really give the indication that a follow-up should be expected. For 10 years, it was a unique, one-off title which was totally at home on the Gamecube, fitting in along with lots of other unique first party offerings. So it's fair to say that, when Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon was announced in 2011, it drew a fair degree of discussion. Not only was this an unlikely sequel, but it was released over a decade after the original. And while such a length of time would obviously indicate a new console, it was surely unexpected that LM2 would become a handheld game on the 3DS, let alone that development would be handed to frequent Nintendo collaborator Next Level Games. In a way, Dark Moon was everything that the original wasn't, and that statement isn't just limited to its development history.
It was clear that, with Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Nintendo wanted to focus on building on the experience of its predecessor, and "building" is the operative word. In Dark Moon, the game is split up into multiple different mansions, each one offering a different theme and presentation. This certainly allows for a greater degree of variety in room structure, and exploring each room is just as satisfying as ever. The game is very light on even mild frights, and it doesn't quite have that same softly eerie personality as either its former or latter entry, but the level design is as good as ever. Exploration is once again at the top of the priority list for this game, and solving puzzles while working your way through each corridor is plenty of fun. And the game looks good, too. This is a handheld game, after all, and while Next Level Games have always been rather proficient animators, the fact that Dark Moon looks as good as it does as an early-era 3DS title is an achievement of itself. This game holds up surprisingly well as a handheld, and even though the game probably needs another analog stick, it is still impressive how smoothly Luigi's Mansion 2 handled the transition from home console to the 3DS.
Of course, while the transition was great on the aesthetic and mechanical side, it's entirely less impressive in regards to the actual gameplay. Presumably, as a handheld game, the focus was to shift Dark Moon from a semi-open ended, exploration based game to a mission based one. It's understandable in theory, as presenting a game in bite-sized pieces for on-the-go gaming has been a trend in handheld gaming for years, but for LM, it doesn't really work. One of the best things about the Luigi's Mansion series is the immersion and atmosphere, but in a game where you're constantly getting returned to the bunker to select a new mission, it's easy to get pulled out of the experience. Couple this with E. Gadd, who's constantly interrupting you to give you mostly unnecessary hints and dialogue, and it goes from a game with the option of being playable in short bursts, to feeling like the only way to play it is in short bursts. The mission structure, which is supposed to be quick and enjoyable, becomes tiring, and the joy of exploration is quickly dulled because you know that it's never too long before another mission briefing or unneeded interruption.
Time management is not something Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon does well, and that's evident in the game's nearly dozen hour playtime. It feels like 1/3 of this game could be cut without losing all too much. And while it's nice that you can skip past cutscenes and dialogue pieces, that doesn't fix the game's poor pacing. And this feeling is exacerbated by the occasional backtracking and lack of enemy variety. The mansions are designed well, and especially the final set of missions have a lot of great moments, but they aren't dense enough to be subjected to the amount of repetition the game puts them through.
With the release of Luigi's Mansion 3, it's likely that Dark Moon will become a bit of a black sheep in the franchise, and it's understandable why. Perhaps it was the concessions for a handheld title, but Luigi's Mansion is a series that focuses on open-ended exploration and atmosphere, and LM2 doesn't really provide either. It's impressive in a way, then, that this game is as close to being good as it is, given its structural limitations. Level design is great, and the base gameplay of Luigi's Mansion is always going to feel fun, but there's too many speed bumps here for the game to carry the momentum of those things to the end credits. Maybe, sometime in the future, a mission-based LM game will be released to outstanding acclaim, and be the game this one always wanted to be. Stranger things have happened, after all. But if that game is to work, it'll have a lot to learn from this game about what doesn't.
The Nintendo 64 was no stranger to the arcade-style racing game, and one of the biggest strengths of the console was that it had something in the genre for everyone. Mario Kart 64 had the lovable cast, Diddy Kong Racing the fantastic adventure mode, Wave Race 64 the impressive water physics. But what if you just wanted to go fast? And not, like, 150cc fast. Like, really fast. If that was what you were looking for, there was only one thing to cast your eyes towards; F-Zero. The series debuted on the SNES along with the console, and was impressive enough as a launch title in the 16-bit era, but it was clear that it, as with most racing series, would benefit from a fully 3D environment. That promise was realized in 1998, when F-Zero X released for the N64.
F-Zero X is a great racing game, and that's because it gets the fundamentals down while offering an experience no other game can quite match. This is a game that goes all in on its sense of speed and high-octane, high-adrenaline gameplay, and it delivers that feeling expertly. It's blisteringly fast, and every race is always teetering on the edge of glory and disaster. You almost feel the wind on your face as you navigate sharp turns, narrowly dodge other racers, and hit all the boost pads. And the 3D environment lets the tracks, which are admittedly still a bit generic and bland, be a bit more expressive and contain more unique elements that benefit from the added depth perception. The game never looks particularly good-these graphics were already aged by the time the game was released in 1998-but as a result, the game runs at a buttery smooth 60 fps, which is incredible for the time, but also instrumental into making this game feel great to play in the modern age, especially with all the moving parts. The roster of racers shot up dramatically from only 4 in the original to 30 in this version, and you race against all of them. That makes the beginning of races particularly chaotic, and creates more opportunities to both destroy your car, and also weave in and out of traffic seamlessly.
It's clear that the goal of the F-Zero series is to take racing and ramp it up to 11, and if the original did just that, F-Zero X pushes the dial up to 12. The soundtrack is clear evidence of this; the first thing you hear when you boot the game up is a heavy electric guitar. It won't be everyone's cup of tea for sure, but it's delightfully unapologetic and authentic. It also brings in a much needed feature which was absent from the debut title; split-screen multiplayer, and with 4 players, at that. This was a borderline necessity, and it's a bit of a shame that there isn't the extra carnage of 30 racers in multiplayer mode, but it's still a good choice for a burst of fun. That's basically F-Zero X's modus operandi, and it works for the game just about as often as it doesn't. The races are super fast, and only the homage to MK64's Rainbow Road and the final course Big Hand regularly clock in at over a minute and a half. This is good; it showcases the speed well and limits frustration in the event of a crash or game over. It's also a pretty quick game in general, and the lack of variety in courses makes the lack of variety in gameplay all the more apparent. It's very much an arcade game in a console game's shell, and that's absolutely not a bad thing, but the content doesn't diversify itself too much.
Of course, games were shorter around this time, and the game has more relevant flaws. F-Zero X actually has a decent learning curve, and its multifaceted way of increasing difficulty is interesting, but it might be a bit too steep at the higher levels. For each difficulty, you can expect to have one less car and harder opponents, and for the first 3 difficulties, this is a good sense of progression. The unlockable Master difficulty, though, takes things a bit too far with incredibly rapid rival opponents (which, barring their destruction, are basically guaranteed to get top spots) and very limited cars. It seems like, in some races, most of the racers are working not to win the race, but stop you from progressing, and this comes in the form of nearly unavoidable collisions. Sometimes cars will slow to a crawl when they're directly in front of you, and too often, you'll receive a light tap on the back of your car, sending you flying into the barricade. It's understandable that this would be a feature in a high-flying racing game, but it's a bit frustrating when it only seems to affect your car.
F-Zero X doesn't have the stylized pixel graphics of the SNES, nor does it have the enhanced, smoother polygons of the Gamecube, but looks do not belay gameplay, and if there's one this thing game has, it's entertaining gameplay. It's a little rough around the edges, as basically all N64 games were, but it remains a short burst of high-voltage experience that is bound to have players bobbing their head left and right as they fight for first place-or explode trying.
One of the most popular topics of video game discussion, online or otherwise, is the "dream sequel". Almost everyone involved in gaming knows that there are always people clamoring for a remaster, remake, or, for the most ambitious, full sequel to one of their favorite games. Naturally, a popular title mentioned in these discussions was Pokemon Snap, an N64 game which focused on on-rails photography. It was one of the most popular on the console, and its strong presence at game rental stores like Blockbuster (where you could even print out your best photos) naturally endured it to a generation of fledgling Pokemon fans. And in the 20 years following its release, particularly the last few years, calls for a sequel only intensified. To many it was a no-brainer, some even claiming the only reason to not make a sequel would be because Nintendo "doesn't like money". Alas, when all hope seemed lost, New Pokemon Snap was announced for the Nintendo Switch. Finally! Millions of fans would finally have the sequel they were waiting for. And...it sold almost a million less copies on the vastly more popular Switch than the original did two decades ago. This is why the fans aren't in charge of Nintendo.
Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. New Pokemon Snap is a much welcome update to the Pokemon spinoff series, and in a way, it's just as monumental a title as the original was back in 1999. The original was the first time that Pokemon were rendered in 3D, while in New Pokemon Snap, it's the first time that Pokemon have actually looked good in 3D. These are the visuals every fan of the series hopes for; the environments are impressively detailed and diverse, and traversing a course for the first time is more about taking in the atmosphere than it is trying to get your best photo. That's not to say its perfect-there are still moments of slow downs or frame drops-but there isn't a mainline title in the series that can compete with NPS visually. Pokemon has always been at its best when its focused on exploration, and this game has that in spades. There's a significant wealth of content here, and discovering different Pokemon behavior, and what it takes to create it, is charming and satisfying. And for those that get confused, the newly added requests feature is useful is nudging players in the right direction.
It's also just got such a nice casual feel that makes it a breeze to play. The first few hours of New Pokemon Snap, while you're getting into the swing of picture composition, are great fun. It retains that old school feel of the original with just enough new features to retain its charm, while not deviating from the formula too much. If there was one complaint about Pokemon Snap, it was that it was too short; you won't be hearing the same about this title. For completionists, that leads to a lot of content, most of which is good. The method of unlocking it does get a little stale, though. Each route requires a certain amount of exp. to level up and see more Pokemon, and while the promise of more densely packed routes waiting to be unlocked is promising, progression really takes longer than it needs to, and as a result, the game's pacing starts to drag toward the latter half. Pokemon games are no stranger to mandated grinding, but its not something you'd expect (nor want) to see in what is supposed to be a lighthearted, casual spinoff.
This is compounded by the new photo rating system, which categorizes behavior captured in photos into 4 groups. This is where the game gets a lot of its bulk from, and while its not a fundamental issue, its implementation means that making progress in this game takes longer than it probably should. If you want to get the most experience, you'll need to photograph Pokemon acting 4 different ways, and since only one picture can be submitted per species per round, completing just a single Pokemon's profile will take at least 4 attempts. These are lovely courses no doubt, but they are basically the same thing every time, and aren't exciting or dense enough to hold up to repeat inspection. There's a speed up function given late in the game which definitely helps the tedium, but the fact you unlock it only a few stages prior to the end of the game means that most players won't get to fully utilize it. There's also, bizarrely, a story, which doesn't add much to the game other than dragging out the length even more.
Even if New Pokemon Snap didn't exactly have the sales that the pre-announcement hype would have led you to believe, it would be unfair to call it a failure. Indeed, NPS is a title that harkens back to the days of simpler games, and brings that charm back with it. Some of the uniqueness, like Pokemon evolutions, may have been removed, but on a whole it's an improvement on the original, even if it does get dry towards the end. New Pokemon Snap has enough addicting and relaxed fun for any fan of the franchise, and as a Switch title, one of the best on the console.