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The Long and Winding Road – Part II

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On the second article on the history of the Mario Kart franchise, we see the franchise go old-school with Super Circuit and break new strategic grounds with Double Dash.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit (2001)

Coming four years after Mario Kart 64 and nearly a decade after the Super Nintendo game, Mario Kart: Super Circuit - likely due to the limitations of the hardware that housed it - was a charming journey into the past. Compared to Mario Kart 64, it could even be deemed a step backwards, albeit a pleasant one. Although the game's physics and the way racers behaved was much closer to the Nintendo 64 title, the game oozed the charming simplicity of Super Mario Kart.

While the tracks on the franchise's first 3-D outing were full of hills, ups-and-downs, and curious structures, such as Wario Stadium's numerous mounds, Royal Raceway's gigantic ramp, Rainbow Road's spiraled segments, and others; Super Circuit's tracks were – like the ones on Super Mario Kart – completely flat. However, they were far from forgettable.

Aside from having lots of creative and challenging hazards, the tracks had very unique themes. Peach Circuit was beautifully decorated by the princess' castle, Cheese Land was a nice alien detour in the midst of the Mushroom Kingdom thematic, the rainy Luigi Circuit had a very distinctive mood, the Sky Garden featured unique colors and designs that created a unique theme, and Sunset Wilds was an interesting blend of the wild west and the Mario universe.

Although it only featured eight characters, a tiny number compared to the options on games that would follow it, Super Circuit still holds the crown of the game with the biggest number of tracks on the franchise. Sporting twenty new courses, the same amount offered by the original game, Super Circuit added another bunch of twenty circuits by introducing something that has become one of the best features of future Mario Kart games: the retro tracks.

It is a fact that, nowadays, aside from coming from games all across the series, the imported circuits receive some nice upgrades. Super Circuit, in contrast, simply borrowed all tracks and cups present on the Super Nintendo game with some minor tweaks. However, given that it would be impossible to reproduce the Nintendo 64 monsters on the humble GBA, it truly did all that was in its reach. In turn, not only did the game feature a whopping forty levels, it also pioneered one of the most anticipated pieces of content present on modern Mario Kart games. That is, unquestionably, the game's most important legacy.

Mario Kart: Double Dash (2003)

Mario Kart: Double Dash's greatest feature was stamped right on its title for the whole world to see: two characters would share the same vehicle during races. The change was not merely aesthetic, it added numerous layers of strategy to the game, turning Double Dash into the franchise's most cerebral effort. In the brutally competitive and fun world of Mario Kart, the choice of characters and the item-management suddenly became vital in determining the winner of a race.

With two characters aboard its wheeled beauties – one driving and another throwing items – players could switch their positions at will and choose to send a character to the wheel in order to save his item for later while the other member of the duo took the duty of causing havoc on the track. Racers' abilities to defend incoming projectiles was now much greater, and, in the midst of the madness, figuring out each character's position became crucial.

To deepen the already impressive strategic prowess of the game, Nintendo assigned exclusive items to each pair of characters. Mario and Luigi had fireballs, Peach and Daisy used hearts to protect themselves, Diddy and Donkey could throw an enormous banana into the track, triple shells were restricted to Koopa Troopa and Paratroopa, the babies could summon a violent Chomp to pull them around the track while attacking other players, and etc. Therefore, assembling a pair of racers was – besides a matter of preference – a question of choosing an interesting combination of exclusive items.

The selection of a duo also affected one important feature introduced on Double Dash: the selection of vehicles. Traditional karts were no more, as they got replaced by nicely designed mini-cars full of personality and with specific stats. The vehicles were divided into three weight categories, and the group from which players would have to choose from was determined by the weight of the heaviest character on the pair, meaning that – for example – Bowser and Baby Mario would have to hop aboard a large and heavy vehicle thank to the villain's huge size.

Other major introductions done by Double Dash include the flying explosive Blue Shell, undoubtedly the franchise's most hated item, and – on a more positive note – it turned power sliding into a major aspect of the game by making it more accessible. Though it had also been present on Mario Kart 64, Double Dash made the mechanics of pulling it off much simpler, making it easier – but still relatively challenging – to control drifting cars around the turns, hence allowing a wider range of players to master the move.

Even though it did not offer retro tracks in the vein of Super Circuit, Double Dash added value to the Grand Prix mode by creating the All-Cup Tour: a championship on which the game's sixteen courses were raced on in a randomized order. Sadly, though, the mode has never been implemented by any of the game's successors.

Until its release, Double Dash was certainly the most enjoyable game on the franchise. And even if that position has been threatened by its more contemporary peers, one thing is for sure: it is, without a shadow of doubt, the deepest and most unique Mario Kart game.

The Long and Winding Road – Part I

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Across twenty-two years, the Mario Kart franchise has – undoubtedly – traveled a long way to reach the anti-gravity antics that will power its upcoming eighth installment. Features have come and gone, concepts have been introduced and replaced, and significant advances have been made to the series' overall gameplay. Hence, in anticipation for the release of Mario Kart 8, there is no better time to look back on a magnificent track record of fun racing.

Super Mario Kart (1992)

Super Mario Kart was born out of Nintendo's wish to, in contrast to the single-player centric F-Zero, create a racing title that had vast multiplayer options. At first, the still unnamed game was not intended to feature characters from the Mario universe, and – likewise – its tracks were not meant to be dressed up with the Mushroom Kingdom scenarios explored two years earlier in Super Mario World. However, when developers decided to test an early version of the software by placing Mario aboard one kart, the pieces began to fall in place, and it became clear that a Mario-themed racer would be the most appealing choice.

The game remains as the franchise's greatest technological achievement. The Mode 7 Chip, first used to give birth to F-Zero, allowed the scenario and track to rotate around the vehicles, creating a marvelous tridimensional mirage. In spite of the heavy use of that effect, the races ran extremely smoothly at decent speeds even when two of the eight on-screen characters were being controlled by human players. Nintendo was, then, able to create the franchise's signature frantic races on a machine with limited technology.

Aside from full-fledged racing, the multiplayer focus given to the game since the first stages of its development became clear on the existence of a very fun battle mode. Though it was simple and limited to human players, the matches were completely addictive, and – like pretty much every concept incepted into the game – it would become a staple on the hundreds of go-kart games Super Mario Kart would inspire during the years to come.

Super Mario Kart is notable for holding a few tracks and shortcuts that have some platforming values, occasionally forcing players to jump – or use the famous feather item – to clear devilish obstacles, such as the iconic broken bridge on Donut Plains 3. Those hurdles, that become more frequent as players progress through the cups, and the tightness of tracks turned this first installment into one of the franchise's most challenging games.

Remarkably, such level of difficulty was achieved without having other racers lean too heavily on items, as each CPU-controlled character was limited to the use of a single type of weapon. To win the hardest races, skill was a must, and so was collecting a good number of coins – which allowed players to go faster and avoid spinning out of control when hit by items.

Super Mario Kart was a fantastic beginning to a lengthy journey. It provided the Super Nintendo with one of its finest moments, and it inaugurated a genre that – more than two decades later – still stands strong and relevant, being an endless source of either competitive struggles or silly family fun. In its charming simple ways, it created a legacy that few games can claim to have matched.

Mario Kart 64 (1997)

As the Big N jumped into the 3-D world with the Nintendo 64, the Mario Kart series went along for the ride, establishing the now commonplace notion that for every step forward the company would take with their hardware, the racing franchise would follow. Mario Kart 64 came into a world on which the go-kart mechanics defined by its predecessor were starting to be explored by other companies.

Consequently, not only did it have plenty of rivals, it also had to face the toughest competition of any Mario Kart game up to this very day. After all, Diddy Kong Racing loomed large and bright on the very same system, while Crash Team Racing came out as Naughty Dog's stellar response to those two Nintendo-based titles.

Mario Kart 64 did away with the coins that added an extra layer of skill to the gameplay of Super Mario Kart, and introduced what would turn out to be the franchise's most infamous item: the blue shell. However, since the item targeted numerous racers, instead of only the leader, and produced the same effects as a regular shell once it hit somebody, it was a rather tame version compared to the winged bombs of doom that now haunt those who are frequently ahead of the pack.

On a more positive note, this first tridimensional incursion was also responsible for creating Mirror Mode, a smart twist that toys with the brains accustomed to turning the other way after playing the cups a handful of times; the power slide, a skill-demanding maneuver that was specially hard to pull off on Mario Kart 64, allowing players to gain small boosts after the turns; and drafting.

Thanks to the console's four controller ports, the multiplayer madness soared to unbelievable heights. While races certainly gained from that fact, it was the battle mode that truly shone. Nintendo crafted four stunning arenas varied in structure and theme (including the masterpiece Block Fort), paving the way for long hours of warfare on wheels. It marks – by far – the very peak achieved by the franchise in regards to the Battle Mode.

The game's set of sixteen tracks offered some rather remarkable designs, such as: the gargantuan Wario Stadium; the enormous fan service of Royal Raceway and its Super Mario 64 castle; the traffic madness of Toad's Turnpike, which would go on to be reused in many tracks from future installments; the railway crossing on Kalimari Desert; and Yoshi's Valley tortuous maze.

The defining trait that united most of the tracks, though, was their length. Never again would a Mario Kart game feature courses that were so huge. Pretty much every single game that followed Mario Kart 64 had three-lap races that lasted for an average of two minutes; meanwhile, some of the tracks here hosted races that went on for over four minutes, with Rainbow Road (the longest Mario Kart track of all) and Wario Stadium surpassing the five-minute margin.

In the end, in spite of its multiplayer fun, Mario Kart 64 paled, especially in terms of graphics and single-player content, in relation to its two biggest generational rivals: Crash Team Racing and Diddy Kong Racing. It was challenging – mostly due to its insane rubber-band AI – and a lot of fun, offering some unforgettable racing moments, but – back in 1997 – a few other companies were able to do go-kart racing better than Nintendo.

Many Layers of Kirby

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Though they are similar in concept, purpose, and success, the Nintendo DS and its younger sibling, the 3DS, took wildly divergent roads towards commercial stardom. The former, powered by its two screens and simple touch controls, immediately made the Big N a load of cash due to how that core functionality was smartly implemented on its more accessible games and deeper hardcore-focused titles.

By adding 3-D effects to the recipe, Nintendo hoped to achieve similar results with the 3DS. However, a slow start in terms of software and the fact the tridimensional quirk of the top screen did not translate into innovative gameplay solutions made the system stall right out of the gate. Luckily, with an onslaught of stellar games, the handheld was soon able to recover and gain a firm grip on the portable gaming market.

Yet, what was once thought to be its greatest feature – the 3-D without the use of glasses – remained untouched in terms of integration with gameplay. Hence, while its predecessor was a winner due to the creative use of its defining trait, the 3DS soared despite the fact its supposed game-changing twist was an afterthought in game design terms.

Mario, who had once – for instance – introduced platforming in a full-blown explorable environment to the world in Super Mario 64, tends to be Nintendo's go-to-guy to display the capabilities of their new systems. And it was no different with the 3DS, as Super Mario 3D Land did make a fair attempt to integrate the 3D effects into the gameplay in a significant way.

However, the game did not gravitate around those mechanics; rather, it used them occasionally in an attempt to justify the inclusion of the expensive screen into the system. Consequently, the game did not serve as a great motivation or source of inspiration for other developers and companies to fully embrace that capability.

Over three years after the 3DS launched, the 3-D effects finally find their vindication, and it comes in the form of Kirby: Triple Deluxe. The uncannily solid Hal Laboratory team crafted a game around the extra sense of depth provided by the system, and in turn they have made Kirby into a pioneer. The pink puffball has grown used to starring in very good and silly games, but this time around he also gets the honor of being the first to draw the blueprints on how the 3-D can serve as the basis for an adventure.

Although its use is certainly not mandatory – a wise and obvious decision given how forcing players to utilize it would alienate a large portion of the audience – the tridimensional visuals greatly enhance the experience. The game is centered around stages with multiple layers, and Kirby gets to switch back and forth between them through the use of special warp stars. Consequently, turning on the 3-D to maximum levels boosts the contrasts between the scenarios.

The game's greatest moments occur when its stage design sets up the interaction between the foreground and the background. Crazy contraptions blast projectiles towards the screen, trees that are cut by foes on the second layer fall on Kirby, enemies attached to ropes swing between layers as if they were having fun on a playground, and bosses launch attacks that toy around with the depth.

It is all done with the charm and simplicity that is inherent to Kirby games. Developers have made it all seem so utterly natural and straightforward that it becomes impossible not to wonder why in the world nobody could build a game like that during all the years the 3DS has been out on the market.

The blend found in the game is unbelievably simple, as it matches the traditional Kirby gameplay with wild 3-D antics, but it is throughly engaging. It is colorful, lighthearted, and highly energetic. At the same time, it is easy in the delightful way Kirby games have always been, serving as the perfect entry-point for children who want to get the hang of gaming sprinkled with the signature Nintendo magic.

Playing around in the Kirby universe has always been a party, and Triple Deluxe is no different. Sure, the world might have its bottomless pits and hordes of enemies, but the little guy always has a remedy to all those problems. He shrugs at the former by inflating and hovering away, whereas he sucks the power out of the latter to use it against them in destructive fashion.

It is a breeze for veterans and a fun little challenge for the youngsters, and all of them will most likely agree that Triple Deluxe is one of the character's finest moments. Not only is he as alluring as ever, he is also breaking into new gameplay grounds. He stars in an adventure that will – inevitably – go down either as the peak of the system's use of its 3-D effects, or as the point on which companies finally realize that although it is not as remarkable as the dual screens, the 3-D slider found on the 3DS is quite a powerful tool.

Child of Light Review

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An enchanting and whimsical fairytale powered by a great heart

Aurora, the daughter of an Austrian duke, is suddenly struck by an unknown disease that causes her to fall asleep. While back in the duchy her family mourns the girl's collapse, she awakes to find herself in a land unlike anything she has ever seen: the kingdom of Lemuria. Desperate to go back to her family, the brave child is determined to face the many dangers that lie ahead.

Lemuria is, unquestionably, a major work of art. It is a place constituted of scenarios that border on expressionism. A town of commercially savvy mice flourishes on the back of a giant, troupes of jesters inhabit floating islands that are kept airborne by enormous balloons, and a fish-like people live on stilt houses built over a vast ocean. Both the architecture of its constructions and the gigantic proportions of its untouched nature seem to have been lifted straight out of fairytale; Lemuria, invariably, enchants.

Yet, despite the overwhelming beauty Ubisoft was able to put into the game, as soon as Aurora steps into this dreamy world one thing becomes clear: something is not quite right. Although the game does put into words that an evil queen has taken over the once peaceful kingdom and stolen the Sun and the Moon, it really did not have to. The way Lemuria is painted onto its canvas, and the atmospheric web that is created through the junction of visuals and songs spectacularly convey that something is amiss.

The gorgeous orchestrated soundtrack looms on the background to give an impression that darkness might be lying in wait at every corner. Monsters scattered throughout the map and trouble brewing everywhere Aurora heads to further increase the feeling that what was once a perfectly tranquil paradise seems to be partially doomed now.

That clash between outstanding beauty and ominous despair is probably the game's biggest achievement. If on the plot the heroine must fight the hopelessness that is plaguing the land by bringing luminosity back to it, Child of Light is able to majestically portray that struggle between darkness and light through the use of its artistic prowess. Lemuria's fantasy landscapes are, therefore, constantly accompanied by a sensible feeling of dread.

An extra dash of levity is brought to the game via its dialogue. If Child of Light seems to have sprouted from a storybook thanks to its artistic direction, the writing makes that feeling even stronger. All of the game's conversations are written in rhymed verses, giving its characters an unmistakably whimsical touch while being able to make their dramatic outbursts even more moving and their happiness considerably more palpable.

The script is, for the most part, greatly satisfying and it will put smiles on the faces of those whose hearts still carry parts of a child. However, given how difficult it is to write a full story through rhymes, a small portion of the lines will not resonate as effectively as intended. Despite those slip-ups, the game's dialogues remain completely commendable, as they give the impression Aurora's quest was inspired by an epic and fantastic poem.

If the dialogues are stellar, the same cannot be said about the plot development. Child of Light raises some great questions from the get go, and they add to the great mystery that is Lemuria and its atmosphere. Why in the world did the girl woke up in this strange place? Is she merely asleep or dead, as her father seems to think? Are there any sort of threads connecting Lemuria to the real world? And what exactly is taking place in this obviously distraught kingdom?

Though all of those doubts are indeed answered, it is impossible not to feel like they could have been explained in a more satisfying way that would put all of the puzzle pieces together in resounding glory. In relation to the other masterfully done aspects of the game, the plot feels a little bit quickly put together, as if it were one smart twist away from being truly moving.

In terms of gameplay, the game takes place on a sidescrolling perspective. Aurora must traverse the world, engage in conversations with NPCs, and explore locations in search of items, enemies and hidden caves. There are lots of chests to be found, a few sidequests to tackle, and nice collectibles.

The items that can be acquired through truly exploring the world and helping people are extremely valuable: potions provide a welcome aid in battle, letters add backstory to Lemuria, while stones and stat upgrades make characters stronger. Consequently, exploration becomes extremely attractive and rewarding, which – in turn – plays right into the hands of the beautiful world Ubisoft designed.

Child of Light's off-battle gameplay would have been pretty standard in terms of what players can do if it wasn't for the presence of Igniculus. A tiny spirit of light that behaves like a cursor, he can be used to solve puzzles, light the way when Aurora enters a specially dark place, collect objects, and even stun enemies temporarily so players can either avoid battles or approach foes from behind in order to start the matches with an advantage.

The game's battle system, another one of its best features, is also designed to make use of his presence. Every battle presents a timeline divided into two parts: waiting and summoning. Icons representing the characters move across it according to their speed stat, and once they reach the border between the two areas players are prompted to choose which action to take: attack, defend, use a potion, switch to another party member, and so on. Each move, according to its power, has a summoning time. Therefore, the icons will then move to the second part of the bar and slide through it with the speed determined by the action that was picked.

However, if characters are attacked while on the summoning phase, they are interrupted and sent back to the beginning of the waiting phase. Igniculus comes into play as tool that allows players to affect the speed with which enemies move through the bar. Shining his light right into a foe's face will cause the respective icon to slide slower. As a consequence, through every second of the battles and as long as Igniculus has power, players will be on a constant struggle to try to manipulate speeds so that enemy attacks are interrupted while Aurora and her party can perform their moves without disturbance.

Instead of being a dull affair, Child of Light's battles are extremely exciting, and have the potential to please even players who are not fans of the turn-based system. They work as never-ending puzzles on which it is important to choose the right moves at the right time, requiring quick reasoning so that players can figure out where characters should be positioned on the timeline so that their moves are either interrupted or perfectly performed.

Although it is not an extremely deep RPG, something that is to be expected given the game's low price tag, Child of Light still provides some degree of depth. Aurora's party is numerous and nicely varied, featuring offensive mages, support mages, physical attackers, and others. Besides, all characters have full skill trees with branching paths that give a good degree of freedom in the building of a moveset.

To top it all off, even though the equipment they use cannot be changed, it is possible to attach different kinds of stones to them (three are allowed for each character). Acquired inside chests or through battles, those stones can be forged together to form even more powerful ones and they have a large number of effects, which include making characters resistant to certain types of attacks, upping stats, making dodging more likely, and etc.

In the end, Child of Light is nothing short of spectacular. Although it stumbles a bit on its storyline, the remaining aspects of the game are truly remarkable. It presents over ten hours of solid gameplay and an adventure that is delightful, offering players great value for the money they spend. It is a game that feels and plays like an enormous journey through a fairytale land, and despite the grand size it conveys, it never loses sight of the little magical things that make a game of its kind unforgettable. It lifts the spirit, transports players to a magical land of unquestionable charm, and does wonders to the children that remain in the hearts of many gamers.

Birdies and Bogeys

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After playing a few hours of Mario Golf: World Tour, one thing is pretty clear: the game has much more content and value than any other Mario sports game that preceded it, and it does measure up to the high standards set by Toadstool Tour. The Gamecube outing, considered by many to be the peak of the series, has met its match.

This is still the Mario Golf we all know and love. The shot mechanics are intact, given that they could not really have been made any better. As players approach the ball, they will have all the information they need to calculate what needs to be done. The wind, the stance of the character, the lie of the ball, and their altitude in relation to the green all come into play if the shot is to land on the desired location.

Even if some of the courses are indeed a bit too easy - after all newcomers do need a friendly place on which they can get a hang of all the mechanics - the game does occasionally punish players whether they fail to work with all the aforementioned variables or do not to execute their planned shot with precision. It is fair, it is competitive, and it is a blast to play.

There is little to complain in regard to gameplay modes. Challenge mode features, scattered across each of the game's eight courses, over a hundred varied tasks, which include collecting coins, scoring a par while grabbing a trickily placed star coin, beating characters on one-on-one matchplay, shooting through a number of rings while managing to save par, or even complete a set of holes with randomly selected clubs.

In addition, players can undertake friendly rounds on the courses with endless set-ups, play in online tournaments of varied natures that are available weekly, look for online matches on the user-created communities that allow for high customization of the playing rules, and buy equipment to increase the stats and change the looks of their Mii character. By all means, there is a lot to do in World Tour, and those who fall in love with the game will have more than enough content to tackle for months.

The question that had been haunting the game on the weeks leading up to its release was whether it was going to feel like a complete package without its DLC or if its core would be just thin. The answer is loudly positive. The extra six courses and four characters acquired by giving Nintendo extra cash feel like the icing on a thick cake rather than elements without which the software would crumble.

The packed-in characters sport very varied stats, and the ten original courses amount to a whopping 126 holes. Although the course design is not as inspired as it was on Toadstool Tour – there is nothing here as brilliant as Peach's Castle Grounds or Bowser Badlands – the fields are great, encompass a large array of themes, put forward different types and levels of challenge, and house beautiful scenarios.

There are three 18-hole venues, the Forest, Ocean, and Mountain Courses; six 9-hole clubs themed around Mushroom Kingdom staples, including the pink fairways of Peach's course and the underwater Cheep Cheep Lagoon; and the 18-hole Sky Island, solely composed of par 3s. The six 18-hole DLC courses come straight from Mario Golf 64, but they have been so brilliantly retooled and occasionally re-themed that it is hard to recognize them. If all of that is added, you have got quite a mammoth.

World Tour's biggest issue is bafflingly primary: its content is poorly structured. The game is divided into two modes: Single-Player and Castle Club. The former features menus that lead to challenges, online communities, friendly rounds, and local multiplayer. The latter is a charming hub on which it is possible to access a meager three tournaments, a store in which to purchase equipment for your Mii, training mini-games, and the regional and worldwide online tournaments.

The Castle Club ends up being ridiculously hollow, because once the three tournaments on the 18-hole courses are won, the only reason players will have to jump in there is to either buy clothes for their Mii or to enter the regional and worldwide online tournaments. The split becomes even more confusing due to the fact that instead of consolidating all online features in one entry point, Camelot has actually divided them. Mii-only tournaments are accessed through the Castle Club, while other tournaments and communities are reached via the Single-Player menus.

It is a very puzzling configuration. It forces players to go through the hassle of switching between Castle Club and Single Player if they want to, for example, go from playing on the currently available regional cup to facing their buddies on their private community, or buy new equipment for their Mii so they can try it out on a non-competitive round of golf. It is an organization that does not make the tiniest bit of sense and might even alienate younger players from finding all content the game offers.

Camelot should have, undoubtedly, consolidated everything either on the Castle Club or on simple menus. It seems like the company could not decide whether to truly embrace the visually pleasant Castle Club or bet on a simpler presentation. The final result is a game that – in its structure – is not sure of where to go, making its players equally bewildered.

Yet, when you are out on the course having fun, World Tour's qualities are hard to ignore. This is a great golf game with touches of Mushroom Kingdom charm and incredibly varied online options. It shows that, when it comes to Mario sports franchises, Mario Golf is definitely the crowning jewel of the collection.

The Zelda Awards

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Ever since the release of the original The Legend of Zelda game, Nintendo has done a vast number of experiments with the franchise, often making precise tweaks in the attempt to deliver the ultimate Zelda experience. The result has been a collection of games of such consistently high quality that it becomes impossible to confidently point out the overall best installment, given that each game has shone particularly bright in one or more areas. In these Zelda Awards, ten distinct categories are selected and the finest game in each one of them gets its deserved accolades.

Storyline – Wind Waker

From the get go, it is clear The Wind Waker is out to tell one pretty epic plot. Its opening segment, backed by gorgeous music and beautiful panels, tells the legend of a kingdom that has been lost in time after war was waged between a hero and the servants of an evil beast. Then, it promptly cuts to a large ocean on which tales of that land are constantly whispered in the wind.

There are two keys to the game's storytelling: its constant development and its numerous twists. And although a few other Zelda titles have managed to combine those two qualities, not a single one has done it as well as the cartoonish Gamecube outing. As Link travels around the world, not only is he after key items, but he is also – sometimes unknowingly – always on the trail of some huge reveal that is related to the grand underlying plot of the lost kingdom and the ocean. Through over thirty hours of gameplay, it is a script shrouded in mystery that never stops moving; growing in scope and presenting wild turns with every passing segment.

Combat – Twilight Princess

Since the locking system from Ocarina of Time was first presented, battles on Zelda games went from 2-D simplicity to tenser battles between a swordsman and his foe. As new mechanics were added little by little with every new affair, Twilight Princess was certainly the peak of that curve, accurately capturing the essence of one-on-one duels.

Despite the general weakness of the enemies, which lead a lot of people to overlook how great the battle system was, it actually had a lot of depth. Across his journey, Link would learn a large array of techniques precisely activated through combinations of button presses and stick movements. With those, each enemy could be beaten in a different way, and battling became something more complex than simply waiting for a foe to be vulnerable in order to swing the character's sword.

Overworld – Wind Waker

Perhaps the most controversial overworld in the series, The Great Sea delivers an unparalleled sense of adventure. Although the attacks towards its emptiness are definitely valid, that happens to be a characteristic inherently present on any large body of water. With a whopping forty-nine islands waiting to be charted, numerous submarines and watchtowers ready to be plundered, and some intriguing mysteries to be solved, it is an overworld that rewards those who are drawn to it.

As the sun sets over the horizon and the morning is replaced by the silence of the night, it is impossible not to feel immersed and excited by the unknown looming out there. The Great Sea is the epitome of the game: it is huge, adventurous, and filled with content. Those who dare explore it discover the truth that every fisherman knows: every sea has a heart and soul, and The Great Sea is no different.

Character Development – Majora’s Mask

Inside the walls of Clock Town there lived the deepest and most amazing set of supporting characters the series has ever had. Each one of them, it doesn’t matter how insignificant they may have looked, had a story to tell and a problem for players to solve. It was easy to spend three days running around town just watching people do their daily routines and, consequently, unveiling the riddle that was their lives and the way they interacted with each other.

But it was not just in that tight little town that Majora's Mask showed its prowess in character development. Every corner of Termina presented personages with great depth that worked as the centerpieces of four minor, yet big, storylines that served as supports for the game's main plot. As Link toiled to clear the issues on each of the regions of the world, becoming deeply involved with the characters living there was a natural consequence of the game's masterful writing.

Boss Battles – Phantom Hourglass

Locate the dungeon's main item then find a way to use it to bring down the boss. From a minimalistic standpoint, such two-step recipe describes how to beat every big baddie that has ever appeared on a Zelda game, and Phantom Hourglass does not run away from the rule. However, thanks to the Nintendo DS' two calling cars – the two screens and the touch controls – the game is able to excel in that regard.

The pair of screens is used in conjunction to convey the enormous size of the beasts. Meanwhile, through creative use of the stylus and the items, the battles turn into fun touch mini-games on which players must figure out how to defeat the bosses. It is a simple yet challenging format that works wonderfully.

Sidequests – Wind Waker

While on most Zelda games the only interesting reward one could gain from doing a sidequest was a Heart Piece, Wind Waker successfully changed that annoying pattern. Not only did it introduce many collectible items that brought new motivation to those missions, it also had Tingle and his chart-reading skills serve as a tool to give meaning to the mountains of rupees Link would find by exploring the sea.

The importance given to the mission rewards ended up playing right into the hands of the quality of the sidequests and the utter charm of the game's world, creating a delightful cycle: finely written sidequests of varied structures lead to exploration, which paved the way to exciting rewards.

Difficulty – A Link To The Past

A Link to the Past was the installment responsible for solidifying the archetypal structure of a Zelda game, and it is also the title where one finds the fine balance between the extremely brutal challenge of the first two Zelda titles and the benevolence of the latest 3-D entries. It is, from the get go, a daunting journey even to experienced gamers, but its challenges rarely feel cheap or impossible.

Enemies are a constant menace both inside and outside the dungeons, and every new area that is explored will most likely present gamers with the Game Over screen at least once before they can figure out a proper strategy to make their way through the challenges. It is a very fair test of skills, especially on its boss battles, but it almost never reaches the point of complete frustration.

Atmosphere – Majora’s Mask

The dark atmosphere of Majora’s Mask is often the deserving target of many compliments. However, its biggest feature, and the one that joins said darkness to take the game to legendary heights is its sense of urgency. On most RPGs or adventure games, the sentence “Hurry up! Or the world will be destroyed!” is frequently used. Unfortunately, it is nothing but an empty claim. Characters can take their time, visit the local shop, play with the village kids, drink some soda at the local bar, sleep three nights on their comfortable bed, travel to far away regions, and the world will still be there.

On Majora’s Mask things are different. Whenever someone tells Link to hurry up, they mean it. The looming moon, the sinister songs, and the despair found on every region around Termina do not let players forget that the world will truly end within seventy-two hours, and they had better step to it before their progress is lost. Though it does bother some people that time constraints limit the exploration, that is the defining trait of Majora's Mask. It always highlights that the end is coming fast, and it thrives on the bleakness of its very real threats.

Dungeons – Skyward Sword

While most Zelda games will use one of its dungeons as an introductory lesson, Skyward Sword – perhaps due to its limited number of seven mazes – goes all out from the very beginning. Absolutely none of its dungeons feel like half-baked temples. Their puzzles, heavily aided by the smart use of the Wii's motion capabilities, are mostly fully original and rather creative; while their settings are brilliantly designed beauties that do not let players forget that danger lurks on every corner.

Out of the seven, four are certainly among the greatest dungeons of all time: the Lanayru Mining Facility and the Sandship with their mind-blowing use of the time-shift stones, which transform the dungeons on the blink of an eye; the Ancient Cistern, where heavenly watery beauty clashes with menacing hell; and the Sky Keep, whose structure is a puzzle in itself. And that all goes without mentioning the Fire Sanctuary – possibly the best fire dungeon of the entire franchise – and the first two good temples. Its dungeons amaze from beginning to end, working as the greatest moments of a very good game.

Progression – A Link Between Worlds

A Link Between Worlds implemented a feature for which fans had been claiming ever since Nintendo stated they were looking for ways to change the franchise's traditional structure: it gave players the power to choose the order on which they would tackle the dungeons of its second half. Making a return after being absent since The Legend of Zelda, that freedom was better deployed here, for instead of bumping into dungeons randomly while exploring the map (which was the case on the map-less original game), they could knowingly choose what to do next.

That exciting way to progress into the adventure did have a cost: plot development was almost completely sacrificed since writers and developers had no control of where players would go. However, it opened the way for a more seamless and explorative gameplay on future titles, and also gave birth to an item-rental system that could have interesting ramifications if it is used again. It showed that Nintendo does occasionally listen to what its fans have to say, and it proved that they are always looking for ways to make the Zelda experience better.

Albums of the Month: May 2014

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Album: The Complete Animals

Artist: The Animals

Released: July 1st, 1990

Highlights: Boom Boom, Dimples, Gonna Send You Back to Walker, The House Of The Rising Sun, Memphis Tennessee, It's My Life, I'm Gonna Change the World

“The Complete Animals” displays one of the most relevant bands of the British Invasion at their peak, registering every single tune the group recorded between 1964 and 1965. Though the name is deceiving, after all the band still produced a lot of music after that period, it does paint a very full image of what The Animals were. The band earned its name on its energetic live performances, and that unshakable soul is clear throughout the record. Featuring forty songs, only a handful of which are original compositions, the double album is trip down the rich field of American rock and roll, and R&B music that came to inspire all the blokes that rode the airwaves to conquer the world when their success made it through the Atlantic ocean.

The flooring reinterpretation of the traditional “The House of the Rising Sun”, certainly most famous song on this set, is a perfect summary of why the band was so powerful. Eric Burdon is deeply in love with the material he sings, and his emotion and passion show on every corner. His voice is sweeping, and when it is joined by the legendary keyboards of Alan Price, they form a partnership that is able to give new wings to the great songs they chose to do. The whole band plays tight rock grooves, and knows how to switch to more menacing and haunting tones when the songs ask for it. Although they were not prolific songwriters, the few originals (especially “I'm Crying” and “I'm Gonna Change the World”) are able to stand up well side-by-side with historically huge music. However, make no mistake: the meat here are the re-imaginations of American music. It is what made The Animals great, and it serves as a gorgeous catalog to grasp why all those British boys were so fascinated by what had been done by American musicians.

Album: Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One

Artist: The Kinks

Released: November 27th, 1970

Highlights: Strangers, Lola, This Time Tomorrow, A Long Way From Home

After writing two straight conceptual masterpieces - one aimed at memories of the past cuddled in beautiful nostalgia, and the other at the dreadful state of post-war Britain - Ray Davies turned his unbelievable songwriting abilities towards his next obsession: the greedy music industry. At first, it seems like an incredibly difficult subject to digest; it is tough to conceive how the average listener would connect to a rock star's complaints about his métier. It was a choice that could have easily made this record the point on which the band crumbled under the weight of Ray's wild thematic ambitions (something that would actually come to happen a few years later). However, the album manages to reach sympathetic ears for, aside from featuring stellar compositions, it approaches its central matter with a lot of sensibility by transforming itself into a working-class statement against “the man”.

“Powerman” attacks the power-hungry people whose lives gravitate around climbing up the hierarchical ladder, while “Apeman” mocks our modern way of life and, almost fifty years later, their lyrics resonate. The beautiful ballad “Get Back In Line” portrays the dual nature of unions, which are supposed to help workers but often act against them, and “The Moneygoround” displays Ray's love for music hall, criticizing those who collect the fruits of labor without much effort – in his case, the business managers. Though it manages to shine through its gorgeous melodies when dealing with very specific subjects related to the industry - the hit parade on “Top of the Pops” or publishers on “Denmark Street” - the record reaches its absolute peaks on more thematically generic numbers, like Dave Davies' desperate love ballad of “Strangers”, or “This Time Tomorrow” and “A Long Way From Home” two works of art that depict life on the road but could serve as musical support to anyone who is far away from where their heart is. It shows great thematic cohesion and varied musicianship from a band at their very peak, and it should serve as ultimate proof that Ray Davies is one of the finest composers of our days.

Album: The Gilded Palace of Sin

Artist: The Flying Burrito Brothers

Released: February 1st, 1969

Highlights: Christine's Tune, Sin City, My Uncle, Hot Burrito #1

One year after joining The Byrds, suddenly taking the creative reigns of the group, and – consequently – delivering the country-rock masterpiece titled “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, Gram Parsons left the group. In order to follow his dream of merging various traditional genres of American music, he formed The Flying Burrito Brothers. Where his record with The Byrds mostly consisted of covers, “The Gilded Palace of Sin” - his new group's first record and his most everlasting legacy - showed that, aside from having exquisite taste and a great voice, Parsons was a talented songwriter. He knew how to bring his musical vision to fruition and, joined by The Byrds' Chris Hillman, he achieved what he set out to do.

Hillman's presence was key to the album's musical success, for he provided Parsons with a reliable songwriting partner. The duo composed six of the album's tunes, including the highlight “Christine's Tune”. Moreover, he brought over his talent as a backing vocalist, giving The Flying Burrito Brothers the the ability to dress the pain of country music with the velvety harmonization that was everywhere on The Byrds' work. Pete Kleinow complements that beautiful choir with a precise and gorgeous pedal guitar that becomes the central thread on the album's most melancholic songs. In spite of its sad country mood, though, the record manages to touch on a great deal of humor on “My Uncle”, offer a slight social critic in “Sin City”, and nail a mysterious storytelling monologue on the closer “Hippie Boy”. Although it is a debut album, “The Gilded Palace of Sin” is done by four experts that absolutely adored the kind of music they were performing, and it shows on each of the record's seconds.

Album: Love Bites

Artist: Buzzcocks

Released: September 28th, 1978

Highlights: Real World, Ever Fallen in Love, Nostalgia, Love is Lies

Differently from their hard-edged debut, that thrived in rebellious power but still left a little bit to be desired in terms of melodies, the Buzzcocks' second album shows the band finding their stride. They leave a rougher sound behind, one that only allowed a very limited scope for variation in song structure, and embrace a crispier production that still supports energy and speed, the two calling cards of punk rock. Consequently, the straight punk numbers here are far more rewarding than they were on “Another Music in a Different Kitchen”, and the group also has enough room to try a few experiments that would have never surfaced in the midst of the no-bullshit approach that dominated their first record. “Love Bites” is a step forward, and though the term “reaching maturity” might be too much for a band that mostly focuses on teenage angst on pretty much all of its lyrics, musically, it would be quite adequate.

“Real World” and “Ever Fallen in Love” open up the album as a pair of fast-paced songs with catchy choruses. Much like the rest of the record, they touch on subjects that are very real and powerful to all teenagers, and it quickly becomes clear why the band was so successful during a time on which British music was being taken over by the wild Sex Pistols and the politically engaged The Clash. The mood is eventually broken up by “Love is Lies” a simple acoustic ballad on which Steve Diggle takes over the vocals, and the lengthy – for punk standards – trio of songs that close the album. They feature different structures, and culminate with the instrumental “Late for the Train”, an intriguing song that might mark the point on which a punk band has come the closest to reaching progressive standards. All in all, “Love Bites” manages to occasionally leave the mold the band created on their debut while maintaining the thematic and songwriting simplicity that made the Buzzcocks so well-regarded.

Of Light and Darkness

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The first realization one comes to when playing Child of Light is pretty much something that became blatant as soon as the title was originally announced: this is one gorgeous game. Its environments are lush with details, and there is a matching of visuals and sound that spins webs of immersion everywhere players look.

At the same time, the game is much more than one very pretty picture. As soon as Aurora, a highborn girl who contracts a mysterious disease and falls asleep to wake up at the strange kingdom of Lemuria, comes to her senses for the first time, there is a looming feeling that there is something unmistakably big going on. However, everything is surrounded by a fog of confusion that perfectly describes the state of disorientation one finds itself in after waking up from a slumber.

The solution, then, is step to the road and attempt to discover the answers to questions that might not be explained when it is all said and done. Why in the world did the girl woke up in this strange place? Is she merely asleep or dead, as her father seems to think? Are there any sort of threads connecting Lemuria to the real world? And what exactly is taking place in this obviously distraught kingdom?

All those question marks, and other unthinkable ones that may come to the mind of players going through the game, show the plot setting itself up as the main fuel for the gameplay. When it comes to RPGs, that is the first ingredient to a recipe of success, and Child of Light hits the nail right on the head.

The game's greatest victory, though, is how it is able to convey a contrast between light and darkness in such an effective way. Lemuria is undoubtedly a gorgeous setting, but as you walk through the land it is impossible not to feel like something is amiss. The ominous music on the background serves as the companion to scenarios that are occasionally in ruins, villages that are deserted, and whispers of a world that had its light taken away from it. Add that up with the clueless state of our heroine, and you have got one dark picture.

However, Lemuria is able to retain the levity of a world that was taken straight out of a fairytale book. The characters Aurora does come across are extremely whimsical, and to reinforce that storybook demeanor, the entirety of the game's script is written in delightful rhymes. Aurora and the inhabitants of Lemuria sing of their worries, concerns and backstories in a way that lifts the plot and conversations to fantasy heights.

Therefore, in spite of the overwhelming bleakness found in Aurora's life and on the routine of a kingdom that has been cursed, Child of Light is still able to be lighthearted. It rhymes and sings in the face of disgrace, and it is able to look at itself in the mirror and make fun of the rhythmic delivery of its dialogue, but on the background of it all there is the constant reminder that things have gone extremely sour for all characters Aurora meets along the way.

It is as if Lemuria was a gloomier version of Alice's Wonderland; one on which the cartoonish evilness of the Queen of Spades has been replaced by a more palpable terror that has nearly spelled doom to all of those who remain in the realm. In order to get to the bottom of what has happened to her, Aurora must first face the daunting riddle of this land and so, with a crown on her head and a sword in her hand, she sets off down this twisted road full of dangers.

The battle between light and darkness, aside from being clearly present on the plot and setting, also shows up on the gameplay. Accompanied by Igniculus, a luminary blob that works as a pointer throughout the game, the girl must explore dark locations, solve puzzles, and even battle enemies with the aid of his light. In all of the cases, his skills are wisely used by the game, serving as the core tool - in terms of mechanics - that sets Child of Light apart from other games that have gone down the road of merging sidescrolling progression with hand-drawn scenarios.

The turn-based battle system is another one of the many highlights of the game. A bar constantly appears on the bottom of the screen showing icons for each of the characters that are engaged in battle. The icons, each at their own speed, race towards the line that determines when the characters they represent will be able to start summoning their attacks, and, when the moment comes, players get to choose a move and wait the corresponding time that it takes for the action to be taken – the more powerful it is, the longer it will take for the move to happen.

That race-to-the-finish bar adds a great depth of strategy to the battles, as it is possible to slow the progression of enemy icons by using Igniculus to shed light at the fighters on the battlefield. In addition, if a character is hit by an attack while he is in the process of summoning it, he will be interrupted and his icon will be thrown all the way back to the beginning of the bar, forcing them to enter on the waiting phase again.

Consequently, there is not a dull moment in Child of Light's battles, as players will be constantly trying to manage the position of the icons on the bar with the aid of Igniculus so that they can interrupt enemies – especially when they are about to perform a seriously powerful attack – while avoid being interrupted by the foes. It is a non-stop puzzle that involves managing the use of Igniculus's power, which is limited, and knowing when it is absolutely imperative that an incoming attack be blocked or interrupted.

Child of Light is, hence, far from a one-trick pony. It is aware that, as an RPG, it must provide a varied range of party members, an entertaining battle system, and some character-customization options. And it does exactly that. In the midst of it all, the game also presents this delightful little world whose big questions and problems never cloud its heartwarming fantasy.

It feels, by all means, like a huge game. However, it never loses sight of the little things that are important. It employs and implements a sensible level of delicacy in building little simple bricks that form a heart and a soul that are bound to make it an unforgettable trip down one dark, yet hopeful, rabbit hole.

Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure Review

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Despite its occasional problems, it delivers an intriguing mix of adventure and rhythmic challenges

One of Sega's first efforts on the Nintendo 3DS, Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure, though completely original in its content, is not entirely new in its structure. Much like the Professor Layton franchise, that dressed up a puzzle game in a grand storyline and point-and-click exploration segments, it is a game that embraces one genre – in this case, rhythm-based mini-games – and complements it with a delightful universe, a solid plot, and plenty of cinematic cutscenes.

Taking place in modern-day Paris, it makes full use of numerous visual cues, not to mention major architectural and cultural staples. That French charm ends up naturally leaking into every aspect of the game, including the dialogues, soundtrack and script. The developers did a fantastic job in bringing the city to life, and they have achieved it through the blending of realistic settings with happenings that are as outlandish as the looseness of its cartoonish visuals allow for.

Raphael is a boy with a curious hobby. As Phantom R, one of the cities most wanted criminals, he sneaks into the museums of Paris at night, takes major works of art, and – for unknown reasons – returns them on the following days. Left behind by his father, who disappeared around the time the casket of Napoleon was stolen from Les Invalides, Raphael gets thrown in the midst of a treasure hunt around the city when, one day, after trying to get away following his latest theft, he bumps into a man who claims to be Napoleon as he attempts to abduct a girl.

The adventure shown in Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure mostly takes place during a treasure hunt around the streets of Paris as the characters involved on the plot scour the place in search of key relics. As a consequence, players will frequently be tapping on the screen, traveling between locations, and engaging in conversations with city dwellers.

The city has plenty of secrets to be found through the touch screen. Sounds, when recorded, can be used to help players solve puzzles and even unlock some extra secrets; musical notes – once fully gathered – also unlock extra content; and coins can be spent on a local shop in exchange for cutscenes and other items.

The game's progression is pretty straightforward, as a handy map on the upper screen constantly indicates where to go next. To some, that aid will undoubtedly come off as severe hand-holding, and it does indeed harm the experience to some degree, for the whole exploration component of the game requires so little effort that it is hard to get fully immersed in the nicely written investigation that occupies pretty much half of the game's main story length.

The real meat here, though, as the game's title indicates, are the musical sections that punctuate the entire journey, and on that regard Rhythm Thief is almost flawless. The title comes packed with a whopping 50 rhythmic gauntlets that vary in theme, musical style, difficulty, and controls, offering a very wide array of mini-games that will please almost everybody while also providing a great challenge even to those who have played a large share of games of the sort.

Whether they are mandatory to the continuity of the main story, or optionals that are only accessed through interaction with minor NPCs, the activities Raphael and his friends must perform are, mostly, perfectly integrated into the plot. Seldom do they feel forced or lazily tacked on; they have been carefully designed to match what is going on at the moment, and on that regard the game is a resounding success, for it has a large number of truly visually and rhythmically exciting mini-games.

If characters are attacked by an army of baddies, Phantom R will have to beat them down to the rhythm; when making a glorious getaway, players will have to tap as platforms appear to the beat of the music; if a song must be played to unlock the secrets of a cathedral, it will be necessary to swipe the stylus right on cue with the movements of the violin; the wonderful list goes on and on.

The controls implemented for each of the songs are greatly varied, but they generally fall into three camps, either utilizing the touch screen, the system's actual buttons, or its gyroscopic detection. The first two work wonderfully and it is an absolute joy to play mini-games that make use of them. However, the very few ones that require the 3DS to be tilted sideways can be painfully frustrating. The game sometimes will fail to recognize that the required movement has been made, and as a consequence it is not rare to fail a challenge or simply lose a combo due to one of those miscues.

Getting to the end of the story mode is relatively easy, and newcomers to the genre should not feel intimidated by it; the game welcomes them with a great and smooth difficulty curve. To those who want to get more out of the title than simply getting to the end of a very compelling plot, it is possible to attempt to get better scores and ranks on cleared songs that appear tightly organized into a practical menu. Hence, a ten-hour adventure can offer many more hours of gameplay to enthusiasts of the genre who want to face the daunting challenge of perfecting it the whole way through.

Unfortunately, in spite of its high replayability, Rhythm Thief possesses a scoring system that is a bit uneven as the rank it awards players after a performance is not influenced by the score. The rank is, actually, determined by a bar that slowly fills up as movements are made with the right timing, and any mistake will automatically make players lose almost one entire rank.

If that sole mistake is done during the early part of the level, the rank is easily recoverable. However, if the slip-up is committed on the very last moments of the dance, someone who has racked up one long combo and made just one mistake will likely have to be happy with a B rank in spite of the very high score. It is possible then to face a situation on which a performance with five mistakes made during its first phase might receive an A rank while one with a single fault on the waning seconds gets a B. It might sound like a silly flaw, but it can be an awfully frustrating development when struggling for a better grade.

The fact that the excellent rhythm sections punctuate exploration segments that are a little bit lackluster due to their simplicity means that the game has some problems with its pacing. While some of its chapters are loaded with mini-games, therefore bringing a good balance between the two faces of Rhythm Thief; others are heavier on the walking-around factor, which while being supported by an interesting plot are just not enough to hold one's attention throughly.

Aside from static dialogue, the plot is also developed by a large number of cartoon cutscenes filled with details, special effects, and style. And although the writing sometimes stumbles on lines and moments that are far too cheesy, the twists and turns the script takes make up for a very pleasant ride filled with surprises, making players truly grow attached to the game's great characters.

Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure is, unquestionably, a little rough around the edges and it makes some mistakes in important areas. However, the overall package is highly recommendable. It turns what would have otherwise been a simple music game into something much bigger, and it is able to pull off an incredible integration between its rhythmical challenges and its plot.

It is accessible due to its difficulty curve, but brutally challenging to those who want full completion, and – consequently – Sega crafts an experience that will certainly be able to please both those who love the genre and the ones that are a little bit reluctant to get into it. It is a charming and lovable world, and – when the adventure is done – it is hard not to wish for an improved sequel.

The DLC Dilemma

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Downloadable content is, conceptually, a blessing. Even after the game has been put on store shelves and gamers have explored every single one of its nooks and crannies, developers can still deliver brand new levels, items or challenges. It has the power to augment a title's value to unsurmountable lengths, creating software that – instead of getting old – gets fresher every time something is added to its catalog of DLC.

However, in reality, those things have a price for companies. After all, a developer that could have been working on a new game has to spend his working hours thinking of new ways to please customers who have already acquired a product. Naturally, that cost is passed over to players, who have to pay extra cash to play something on which companies need to spend a few more bucks. It is simple math, and on paper it is a very fair deal: those who want to get more than they acquired for the game's initial price tag have to dispose of some money.

While extra content is universally applauded, the minute it gets priced marks the point on which a barrage of comments accuse companies of being merciless money-hungry tyrants. Case in point, the recent announcement that the upcoming Mario Golf: World Tour will have courses that can only be downloaded if players pay for them, which caused many of those who were anticipating the game to accuse Nintendo of ripping players off.

Games, like any project, have a limited budget and the content that gets put into a title is always limited by whether or not there is enough cash left to cover it. It does not take the knowledge of an insider to claim that Mario Kart courses, Zelda dungeons, Super Mario Galaxy stages, and Metroid bosses have been left out of the final version of the game because time and money had just run out, and the game needed to be put out there so that the company could start collecting the laurels of its hard work.

Nowadays, that upper limit budgets have is undoubtedly more loose. Extra ideas that would have otherwise not made it can materialize due to the fact companies can now allocate extra money on projects and expect good returns over it because of paid downloadable content. In other words, if gamers are paying extra cash for features that would have been non-existent in a world without DLC, then they are most certainly not being ripped off.

Still, players' complaints are not all that unreasonable. Companies do like money, and the world is – sadly – crowded with unscrupulous people that are not ashamed to take advantage of others in order to make some more money. Hence, to us outside the process of gaming development, there is one huge dilemma surrounding DLC: it is just impossible to know whether a certain piece of downloadable content is really an extra, or something that was originally part of the full game that got removed just for the sake of squeezing extra coins out of our wallets.

Gaming development is a dark box to gamers, and in the full knowledge that businessmen – like any other kind of human being – can be bad, we have naturally come to suspect every additional bit of gaming goodness for which we are charged after we paid for the full game. It is a problem to which there is no fast fix, for it relies on something extremely abstract: the relation of trust between a company - a faceless entity - and its fans.

Though by no means quick, that solution is certainly achievable. The one way through which companies can make players start looking at DLC with more positive eyes – even if the negative comments will never cease to exist – is to consistently deliver games that are exploding with gameplay hours. In that sense, the issue of paying more money for extra content can be positive to gamers since companies will have to make sure their titles feel like really full packages from the very start, potentially increasing the value of the average game.

Staying on the Nintendo side of things, one stellar example of a game that reaches such balance is Fire Emblem: Awakening. Its downloadable content is gigantic, featuring new missions and units that are linked to unlockable classes, skills and items. Awakening has, literally, a full game's worth of DLC. However, its single-player campaign is so lengthy, its features so configurable, and its production values so exquisite that its very well-priced load of pay-to-play content is a very pleasant sight once the end of the game is reached. It is like finding a treasure chest full of gems when the loot seemed to be all taken.

The bar against which World Tour must be measured is, obviously, its predecessors. Both the original Mario Golf and the Gamecube's Toadstool Tour had six courses to be enjoyed, and the Gameboy Advance game had five, which were complemented by a strong and high-value RPG mode on which players could slowly build up their characters. If World Tour can deliver a number of courses equal or above six and pack a strong RPG gameplay, then its extra content will undoubtedly be seen with very positive eyes by media and fans alike, as the game would be bound to get a very good reception.

Nintendo does not have a strong tradition of placing DLC in its games, but it can use Mario Golf: World Tour to keep improving its credentials on this field. In turn, that might – one day – back up the inclusion of downloadable elements on even bigger games such as Mario platformers, Mario Kart, Star Fox, or F-Zero.

In spite of the understandable negative reactions that happen at first, everything might turn out to be very positive. After all, who in the world would not love a Mario Kart title that gets updated with new packs of courses every two months or a Star Fox title that receives new thrilling space missions on a weekly basis?