A tasty, yet tiny treat
Within 1996’s masterful Kirby Super Star omnibus was a game by the name of Gourmet Race, wherein Kirby and his nemesis King Dedede engaged in an off-beat marathon where they’d race while gobbling upon littered sweets for points; a perfect fit for the pink puffball’s ravenous appetite. It was also, by a significant margin, the least consequential game of the lot. Even for a game priding itself on replayable content, its two-minute running time rendered it an unusually thin appetizer within an otherwise scrumptious smorgasbord.
I bring this up because it’s downright uncanny how Kirby’s Dream Buffet, the latest Kirby spin-off, treads the same design philosophy – right down to the slim offerings at odds within its gourmet theming. While certainly meatier than its 1996 forebearer, some may walk away from Dream Buffet still hungry as opposed to its chunkier Switch cousins in Super Kirby Clash and Kirby Fighters 2. Not that this land of sweets and tweets doesn’t provide a good time, but what’s an easy sell for Kirby diehards might not appeal to casual shoppers.
Three routes, three leaders, Three Hopes
When the opening bars of the Fire Emblem theme – this time portrayed as a powerful, heavenly hymn –– greet a brilliant golden sunrise over the sprawling Garreg Mach Monastery, it’s not just the faint nostalgia stirring our nerdy souls upon witnessing Fire Emblem: Three Hopes’s title screen. The original Fire Emblem: Three Houses still holds an iron-grip on the strategy series’ public mindshare with its riveting ensemble of ambitious war heroes, sobering politics, and tragic poignancy; in many ways, we’ve yet to graduate from our unforgettable time at a military academy famed for cheery gatekeepers and lore-divulging tea parties, and so we’re given one more opportunity – or three, I should say – to have a new dawn rise over the mythical realm of Fódlan.
Hence the minor misconception that Fire Emblem: Three Hopes is a direct sequel to the 2019 Switch entry. It’s easy to elaborate on all the whys and hows that would defeat the entire purpose of Three Houses – wherein Fódlan’s three territories lived and died by their ideals in what was easily Fire Emblem’s most grounded narrative this side of Path of Radiance – but having swiftly tossed aside any semblance of a functioning life in favor of sinking a hundred hours into Three Hopes, I concede there is legitimate cause for confusion, not the least in how this “what-if” spin-off translates Three Houses’s DNA into Koei-Tecmo’s Warriors genre. The result: meticulous time management and camaraderie-building forged amidst endless combo strings and enemy mobs, all juggled in three separate campaigns.
Which path will you carve into Fódlan's history?
Is there any worse feeling in gaming than reaching the end of a demo you’re really into? That happened to me with the Fire Emblem: Three Hopes demo that launched last Thursday. There I was, fighting alongside Prince Dimitri, Felix Fraldarius, and the rest of the Blue Lions as we were demolishing bandits, mercs, and Empire soldiers alike. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be: just as I was about to rendezvous with the Church of Seiros, my progress into Chapter 4 was impeded by the dreadful message of “You have reached the end of this demo.”
Cue a drawn-out moan of despair. I’d just gotten reacquainted with Fire Emblem’s best cast in what amounts to an alternate take of 2019’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and after all the spicy new lore and heartening character foibles and interactions, I’d have to wait another two weeks to learn the fate of a war-embroiled Fódlan? Perhaps, but then I remembered: much like the original game, the Azure Gleam route I’d just previewed was one but one of three paths featured in Three Hopes – the other two being Scarlet Blaze and Verdant Wildfire. Would I be able to resist the allure of another campaign on my plate?
Yes, it's been that long since its American release!
I still remember seeing the original Smash Bros. for the first time in Tips & Tricks magazine. For anyone too young to remember that monthly tome of guides and codes, it had an import corner detailing the latest hits in the Japanese market, and one such issue detailed “Nintendo All-Star! Great Fray Smash Brothers.” The feature promised the stuff of playground discourse: an all-out brawl between Nintendo’s finest. I might not have known what a “Samus Aran” was, but from Mario smacking Pikachu to Yoshi aiming a gun at Fox McCloud (Complete with the gut-busting caption “Yoshi with a gun? It hardly seems right.”), the crossover concept lit my imagination aflame and demanded my immediate attention.
Selling over five million copies, what was eventually localized as 1999’s Super Smash Bros. captivated the Nintendo public with its intuitive accessibility. Anyone can recognize the appeal behind Mario vs Link, but can everyone handle layered controls like those of Street Fighter and Tekken? Here, there are no mind-bending button combinations to unleash Mario’s Fireball: just a simple press of the B button, and you have yourself a scorched Kirby marshmallow.
Can the Booster Course glide past its rusty graphics?
To claim that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s Booster Course pack is “generous” would be an understatement – we’re talking about 48 remastered courses implemented over the next year-and-a-half. All this for a 2017 racing game (or, more accurately, one that originally released in 2014)! With many series veterans turned off by the microtransaction-heavy Mario Kart Tour and its awkward controls, their desire for a straight-up sequel meets the unfortunate impasse of financial reality; Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still selling big numbers five years after the fact, and Nintendo’s not about to undermine that Golden Mushroom-fueled momentum. In that event, why not display a gesture of goodwill by letting fans take a grand tour down Mario Kart history at a low price? (At no additional cost if you’re a Nintendo Switch Online subscriber!)
And yet, much as we’ve been enjoying our return to the world’s best kart-racer, not everything is well on Mario Circuit. As the hype following the initial trailer settled down, it quickly became apparent that the new tracks’ graphical fidelity weren’t up to par with the ultra-detailed aesthetics from the base game; in fact, some closer analyses all but proved Nintendo was brushing up ported Mario Kart Tour tracks, as opposed to rebuilding these courses from the ground-up. Combined with the absence of anti-gravity – Mario Kart 8’s signature visual and gameplay attraction – and it’s rendered rather obvious that the Booster Course is but a budget stop-gap for the next big Mario Kart.
...until you realize it's microsanction-city, that is.
It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that Chocobo GP bears little tonal resemblance to its Final Fantasy progenitors, what with the brooding sadsacks and multi-layered epics substituted by deformed, doe-eyed Behemoths and kiddie cartoon escapades. Yet, there’s something to be said about Chocobo GP’s own tonal dissonance. Within a span of three minutes, we’re treated to an opening cinematic accompanied by a rock guitar, a gritty, cutthroat version of the Chocobo theme arranged with all the brutality of a monster truck rally, and then a peppy sing-along for the main menu that’d be right at home on Nick Jr. (“Ah, how well we get along~ But oh, when the race is on~ No one can stop me on my way! Straight! To vict-tory!”)
Alas, I’m unfamiliar with the original Chocobo Racing, so I can’t claim if such discordance was present within the 1999 PlayStation racer. That said, I find myself oddly charmed by it all – it’s one cog in how earnestly Chocobo GP engages in its off-beat identity. The roster cameos, along with a plethora of references and in-jokes elevate the tongue-in-cheek story mode, which certainly doesn’t dismiss the game’s prestigious Final Fantasy origins. That’s all well and good, but it’s the predominantly self-contained cast and world that welcome us into a wholesome little kart racer that’s just fun to dive into, regardless if one is familiar with Square-Enix’s RPG franchise or not.
Prep for your journey into the Forgotten Land!
2022 is shaping up to be quite the birthday for Nintendo’s cutest mascot; Kirby. Yes, the pink puffball is celebrating his 30th anniversary this April 27th – the Japanese release date for the original Kirby’s Dream Land– and The Big N’s wasting no time dumping a boatload of commemorative merch (My poor wallet!). While previous anniversaries were celebrated via the heartfelt Kirby’s Dream Collection anthology pack and the grand Kirby 25th Anniversary Orchestra Concert, this is the first Kirby anniversary event to launch with a big, mainline entry in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. What better way for series developer HAL Laboratory to celebrate the precious boy’s 30th year than with his big jump to fully-realized 3D?
Obviously, Kirby’s new Switch game won’t be an industry-defining revolution in the vein of Super Mario 64, but it’s not trying to be. Instead, Kirby and the Forgotten Land takes a page from Super Mario 3D World’s playbook by utilizing three-dimensional movement within straightforward obstacle courses. In this manner, Kirby’s gold standard for approachable gameplay is carefully juggled within this new, unfamiliar playground. This creates an inviting bridge for both beginners and veterans alike, allowing everyone to explore abandoned vistas in towering castles, colorful carnivals, and arid deserts surrounding a derelict, dilapidated shopping center.