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• Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door

developed by Intelligent Systems, published by Nintendo
1 player / Nintendo GameCube / 2004.10.11

Paper Mario Thousand Year Door title

Like the N64 before it, the GameCube didn’t get too many RPGs. Intelligent Systems once again picks up the slack with a sequel to Paper Mario, subtitled The Thousand Year Door. This time Mario receives a letter from Princess Peach that contains a map that supposedly leads to a mysterious treasure. Oh, and she’s been kidnapped again.

• Paper Mario

developed by Intelligent Systems, published by Nintendo
1 player / Nintendo 64, Wii & Wii U (virtual console) / 2001.2.5

Paper Mario (magazine ad)

After Squaresoft ditched Nintendo for Sony’s PlayStation, it seemed unlikely that we’d get a follow-up to Super Mario RPG. Intelligent Systems picked up the slack with Paper Mario, taking the series in a whole new direction on the RPG-starved N64 console. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that with my hands full with the RPGs on the PlayStation at the time, I didn’t get around to playing it until recently.

Hollywood’s latest fail: Battle Angel Alita

What’s up with Hollywood’s inability to do justice to Japanese animation on the big screen? Whether it was the absurdly bad live-action Dragon Ball movie, to the more recent turd based on Ghost in the Shell, Hollywood just can’t seem to wrap its head around the pop-cultural phenomenon that took Westerners by surprise beginning sometime in the late ’70s.

But while Dragon Ball, with its over the top characters, outfits, and action scenes probably never stood a chance of being taken seriously as a live-action film, Ghost in the Shell and Battle Angel Alita were practically made for it. And yet, here’s where we are in 2017. And what do we have? A fucking gender-swapped sequel to that Cher classic, Mask.

In case you’re wondering, no, the main character Alita doesn’t have Crouzon syndrome. She doesn’t have extraordinarily large eyes. Reading the comics, or watching the anime adaptation, the viewer’s attention is never meant to be drawn to her eyes in this way. She is supposed to be a pretty, but normal looking girl who just happens to be a robot – revealed by her metallic arms.

There’s no reason for an expensive team of cg animators to digitally mess with the actress’s face. Somehow, somewhere, some clueless suit must have said, “Hm, these anime characters all seem to have big eyes. That must be what the fans like about them, so let’s make her eyes extra big!” This is such a colossal fail it beggars belief.

It’s amazing this movie-destroying mistake survived from concept through to production. I’ll give the creators the benefit of the doubt, and assume there were some meetings between art directors at some point. Did they even bother to ask Battle Angel’s creator, Yukito Kishiro, what he thought of this? Is it possible he was so gratified that an adaptation was happening at all, after years of the project collecting dust, that he was fine with it?

Why is hack Robert Rodriguez directing, and not James Cameron, who saw the potential in it years ago and bought the rights? Did Cameron simply hand it off to Rodriguez because he’s too busy with Avatar sequels, and didn’t take 5 minutes to check in on it? Why oh why didn’t Cameron keep this one in his quiver until he could do it justice?

Personally, what I find much more disappointing than the bug eyes disaster, is that James Cameron isn’t directing it. I have been a lifelong fan of Cameron’s films and was really looking forward to seeing what he could do with Battle Angel’s characters and setting and action sequences. So, congratulations Mr. Cameron! You managed a bigger fail in 2017 than the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

By the way, the trailer makes it clear that this waste of money and effort is basically just a lifeless, ugly, live-action version of the excellent anime adaptation, which covers just a tiny fraction of the Battle Angel story. That being the case, if you’re at all interested in knowing what made Battle Angel Alita cool in the 1990s, just watch the anime instead.

• For Frog The Bell Tolls

developed & published by Nintendo
1 player / Nintendo GameBoy / 1992.9.4

For Frog The Bell Tolls cover artwork

For Frog The Bell Tolls is one of those Nintendo games that annoyingly never saw publication outside of Japan. Developed for the original GameBoy in 1992, it laid the foundation for the excellent The Legend of Zelda – Link’s Awakening. Penned by Yoshio Sakamoto (Metroid, Kid Icarus), it stars Prince Sable and his friendly rival Prince Richard of the Custard Kingdom. As with everything, they compete to rescue Princess Tiramisu from the evil Croakian Army. A few years ago a fan translation appeared, allowing us to enjoy the game in English for the first time.

• Super Mario Sunshine

developed & published by Nintendo
1 player / Nintendo GameCube / 2002.8.26

Super Mario Sunshine

With Super Mario Odyssey returning the series to open-ended level design, I felt now was a good time to replay Super Mario Sunshine. While it was generally well received, Sunshine has dropped on lists of the best 3D Mario games in the last 15 years. But does it deserve this new reputation, and if so, why?

• The Legend of Zelda – The Wind Waker HD

developed & published by Nintendo
1 player / Nintendo Wii U / 2013.9.20

Wind Waker HD artwork

Having just completed The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild, I wondered how well The Wind Waker would hold up. Originally released on the Game Cube in 2003, the HD remaster arrived on the Wii U a decade later. Not only was it easy to get back into, in doing so I was struck by how many of its ideas blossomed in Breath of the Wild.

• Vandal Hearts

developed & published by Konami
1 player / SONY PlayStation / 1997.3.27

Vandal Hearts box art

Konami threw its hat into the turn-based strategy RPG arena with Vandal Hearts on the PlayStation, an unusual move for a publisher that had virtually no genre experience or reputation. Perhaps as a result Vandal Hearts makes no attempt to reinvent the wheel, owing much of its design and mechanics to mainstays Shining Force and Tactics Ogre. What it brought to the table was glossy 32-bit presentation, which for 1997 was more than enough reason to play it, and which set the standard for games that followed.

• The Legend of Zelda – Majora’s Mask 3D

developed by Nintendo & Grezzo, published by Nintendo
1 player / Nintendo 3DS / 2015.3.13

Masks are present in almost every human culture, and some are said to spiritually transform the wearer during sacred rites. Despite this, scant few videogames feature masks as a primary element in either story or game design. Nintendo cleverly introduced this universal concept to The Legend of Zelda with Majora’s Mask, giving the hero new abilities unlike anything players had seen in earlier Zelda games. The N64 original was rushed through production to quickly repurpose the engine and assets developed for Ocarina of Time, and as a result the game’s designers found many quirks to fix when remaking it for the 3DS.