Halo 4

I was pretty hard on Halo 3, which was Bungie’s swan song developing the series, Halo 4 would see a new in-house developer, 343 Industries, take over. They would have big shoes to fill, as the Halo series was and is super popular.

I must say, they hit one out of the park.

Halo 4 found a way to innovate while continuing what seemed like a dead-end story with the Master Chief. Many of my original complaints with the third edition are totally redeemed by the new studio’s additions, as the game retains a lot of familiar ground while exploring new territory.

Covenant enemies, weapons and vehicles are back alongside the UNSC fare, but Halo 4 also adds a new group of villains called Prometheans, who are cybernetic creatures that truly feel futuristic.

With their introduction comes a new slate of gizmos for the chief to wield, but the UNSC has some tricks up its sleeve too. 343 took the time to remodel all of the existing weaponry and vehicles with Halo 4, balancing the game to where driving a tank felt like you could mow over everything. Turret weapons can be dismounted and carried, new shield abilities are introduced, and vehicles such as the Avatar-like Mantis fit in perfectly with the kick-ass blockbuster style of game this is.

Some areas of the game feel incredibly massive in scope, something Halo has always done well with from iteration to iteration. However, this game’s Mammoth area, which is a giant UNSC convoy vehicle, still features a crazy bug that’s impossible to pass – even to this date with the Master Chief Collection! (How this wasn’t fixed is beyond me and was a huge area of disappointment back when this game was released in 2012.)

In fact, the release date is important to note, as the five years between Halo 3 and Halo 4 makes it hard to believe both games are on the same console: Halo 4 is that vastly superior in every area, including graphics, audio, and gameplay.

Of course, there’s far more to this game than I can contain here, along with not giving away any spoilers. My recommendation is that the entire Halo series is not only worth visiting, but highly replayable – and the continuation with 343 Industries proves that the title was left in great hands going forward.

New Super Mario Bros. 2

It’s hard to believe this game is almost ten years old now, while the Nintendo 3DS is still alive (but on life support due to the portability of the Nintendo Switch).

That’s where it falls into odd territory as a “retro game” but I feel it’s old enough now to go back and explore – anyone else’s definition of “retro” be damned!

Released in 2012, NSMB2 is the successor to the Wii title of a similar name, which itself was a sequel to the first of the “New” Super Mario Bros. titles, released for the Nintendo DS.

Did you follow all of that?

Essentially this is “New” Super Mario Bros. 3 – and as such, it shares a lot of similarities to the NES Super Mario Bros. 3, namely the reintroduction of Racoon Mario. For the unaware, grabbing a leaf powerup would give Mario a raccoon tail he could use to swipe enemies, smash blocks, or, for whatever reason, fly.

Considering SMB3 was one of the greatest titles of all-time, it’s not hard to imagine that this was one of the highest-selling 3DS games of all-time as well. Yet, it felt like it was lacking.

In my opinion the game reuses too much of the same “new” formula: that’s not really a bad thing, just an observation. It has the same 2.5D graphics (3-D models in a 2-D platformer) plus the familiar super mushrooms, fire flowers, and the invincible star man.

In addition, there are golden variants of the same which make for a coin-collecting boost – as collecting coins becomes a major focal point in this game over previous ones, though the star coins are also important to unlocking areas or challenging completionists.

With that component in place, a “blockhead” powerup (for lack of better terms – not sure what it’s really called!) has Mario (or Luigi) produce even more coins as they run and jump around every stage.

The game tracks every coin you collect in something akin to a “career mode” throughout every playthrough on your saved game file.

Speaking of stages, this title is deep: with 85 levels over 9 worlds and tons of hidden exits and areas.

There’s also a Coin Rush mode, which admittedly I didn’t get into very much, so here’s what Wikipedia had to say about it:

In addition to the main game, New Super Mario Bros. 2 features a Coin Rush mode, made accessible after the player completes the first world.

In Coin Rush, the player plays through three randomly chosen levels collecting as many coins as possible. Star and Moon Coins add several coins to the player’s running total in this mode. However, the player is given only one life and each level gives a time limit of 50 or 100 seconds.

It’s a need addition, but really just a distraction from the main game.

The premise of NSMB2 is the same as it’s predecessors: rescue Princess Peach from Bowser and his underlings. Again, no departure from the norm which can be seen as a good or a bad thing – or both.

Regardless this is a fun game and deserves attention from any Mario fans. Newcomers to the series may be best served starting with earlier Mario titles, just to get the mechanics down – some of the coin grabbing and non-linear landscapes tend to be great for experienced gamers but a bit of a learning curve for kiddos.

Either way, I enjoyed NSMB2 as its yet another Mario title where Nintendo can seemingly do no wrong.

New Super Mario Bros. U

Traditional 2-D side scrolling Mario games took a hiatus following the stellar entries of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World into the series. Those games launched, respectively, on the NES and Super Nintendo in the early 90’s.

Entering the new millennium, 3-D graphics were all the rage. Super Mario 64 took the famous plumber into an open world of three dimensions and the old platformer we all grew up with was all but a forgotten genre with no new entries.

Then, in 2006, Nintendo unleashed a “New” update to the original formula with the Nintendo DS’s “New” Super Mario Bros. The update brought the traditional gameplay into the 2000’s and sparked sequels on the Wii, 3DS, and this one, on the Wii U.

Some of that spark flamed out by the time we get to this “U” iteration, but there’s enough meat left on the bone here for Mario fans to pick clean regardless. It’s also the first Super Mario Bros. (platformer) title to get the full High Definition treatment on the Wii U.

The formula is familiar: Princess Peach is captured, Bowser (and his usual array of henchmen) are responsible. This part of the game will make those familiar recall Super Mario 3, which could be a good or bad thing when it comes to being repetitive.

Mario navigates a world map, which has hidden levels, mushroom houses and the like.

The usual fire flower and starman power-ups are present, as is the ice flower from the Wii predecessor. Yoshi (and baby Yoshis) also make an appearance.

As with any Mario game, there is a new special item, this time a squirrel suit which allows you to glide in the air and stick to surfaces.

At times this new suit can be a hindrance and oftentimes you may find yourself better off with a different approach. While it’s novel, it takes some getting used to and can feel out of place with some of the more time-tested and tightly woven power-ups found throughout the game.

Multiplayer was a big selling point for this Wii U exclusive (since ported as a “Deluxe” edition to the Switch). I didn’t give it a try, so I cannot give an opinion on its elements or effectiveness.

There is another mode with a new “antagonist” named Nabbit, who you must chase and catch for a prize from Toad. This was actually a refreshing entry to the game and one that makes some levels much more appealing to play back through.

In all, everything here should look somewhat familiar. There was definitely a push in this game to make the levels less “blocky” than in previous games. My hunch is that Nintendo made this decision to differentiate Mario U from the upcoming Super Mario Maker: and make sure users couldn’t just recreate the U levels.

This small touch, along with your usual 100 coins for a 1-Up, star coins to unlock other areas, and a few Mario jokes and surprises makes it worth playing, but could end up being a monotonous playthrough for some of the older or hardcore fans of the series.

Killzone HD

For whatever reason, the original Killzone is a game that flew off of my radar even when it was initially released for the PlayStation 2 back in 2004. I’m not sure why, either, because I have a love for First-Person-Shooters: at least decently good ones, that is.

Killzone is centered around an odd storyline of world governments and an Earthly wasteland. You can pretty much sum it up as rebels versus the empire, though it’s not Star Wars-like in anyway. In fact, the game was released to be a “Halo Killer”, that is a flagship title on the PS2, but I have a feeling the adult-oriented content may have kept those expectations grounded.

Years later, the game received a high-definition refresh on the PlayStation 3, which is the version I opted to review here.

Now for the good: the game looks really impressive with the HD refresh. You can tell, especially with the cutaway scenes, that it’s an older title, but that really doesn’t take away from the enjoyment. The visuals, along with the soundtrack, are great.

The voice acting, along with the (in my opinion) unnecessarily added swearing (i.e. the “adult content” I mentioned earlier) gets repetitive and could be done without… though it does lead to a few laughs throughout.

Gameplay-wise, the game will have some frustrating moments. There are obvious squeeze points that force you to use more strategy, a specific weapon, or to conserve ammo. You can carry up to three weapons, and sometimes dropping one weapon in lieu of another may leave you almost empty-handed in certain situations.

The weapons often have secondary features, and as customary in these games, some are better at closer distances, load faster, etc. None of that is a shocker.

Grenades are also a part of the game, though I found them to be aggravating to aim properly. In fact, the controls are the biggest caveat in this game as the button layout doesn’t follow your traditional FPS pattern in some cases. Even reloading or trying to melee attack an enemy can be quirky at times.

In all, the game isn’t something to really be a downer on. I checked it out because of having it on my bucket list for so long, and having seen it spawned a slew of sequels. Playing a remake of a game two generations after it’s initial release, I won’t comment on any of its shortcomings as that would be unfair.

The only thing I can say is, the game does feel as if it becomes a chore to complete after you reach a certain point. A surprise or two here or there helps keep you into it, but I can see why it was never a true “Halo Killer” after all of these years.